Given the huge decline in the influence of organised religion, what is right and wrong is now mainly learned in the home and through the media. We tend to still assume that the role of a parent is to supervise children and teach them right and wrong. But to what extent is this still happening in this age of permissive parenting?
Permissive parenting and monitoring what teenagers get up to
During the 2011 English riots there were fathers and mothers of rioting teenagers who didn’t know or claimed they didn’t know their offspring were out on the street at night. One view is that some parents could indeed take more responsibility for the behaviour of their children, but that others are struggling to cope at the best of times, sometimes dealing with chronic illness or the effects of domestic abuse. Some parents in social housing work very long hours in low paid jobs to make ends meet and cannot afford a childminder to keep an eye on their children when they are doing evening shifts or during the long school holiday.
For the rest of the population who are not particularly well off, especially younger families, money is very tight. High housing costs and reducing wages mean more mothers are obliged to go out to work for the family to make ends meet. Nevertheless there is still a common expectation these women will also do most of the domestic work in the home. As a consequence they have less to do with their children. All these factors appear to be social conditions conducive to permissive parenting.
Permissive parenting and absent fathers
One argument is that since the 1960’s, permissiveness in western culture has led to early sexualisation often not making its way into stable relationships, and that this leads to higher rates of divorce and weakened parenting. It is not inevitable that permissive parenting occurs when one parent is absent. However mothers do lack help from absent fathers to deal with bad behaviour with no-one to back them up telling kids about right and wrong.
We can only guess at this stage how many looters come from homes with incomplete parenting. From film on television, black youths were seen among the rioters. Is it a co-incidence that according to a BTEG report, 48 percent of black Caribbean families with dependent children are headed by a lone parent? This compares to the national average in the UK of 7 percent of households with children having a lone parent (according to Office of National Statistics 2007) It would be instructive to know the rate of lone parenting amongst the families bringing up the white rioters.
Permissive parenting and children’s access to mass media
Another aspect of permissiveness has been the absence of effective public censorship of film, video and television. Someone said that being in the middle of the riot was like being in the middle of a computer game or a film set. Admittedly, research into the potential anti-social effects of the media is difficult area to investigate and has not always produced consistent results. However, many academic studies do suggest a relationship between exposure to media violence and violent behaviour.
Permissive parenting is watching and exposing the family to bloodshed, sexual extortion and theft on television and video film. This can only be helping with desensitisation to violence and other horrible behaviour.
Also the distinction between the virtual and the real seems to be disappearing for some young people. The computer game ‘Grand Theft Auto’ contains some horrendous scenes. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if some individuals eventually act out these hate-filled fantasies. If one opens one-self to such excitement there should be no surprise if a hellish state of mind starts to rule one’s actions. The Christian religion argues there is a reality to evil from which we need to be saved.
Permissive parenting and moral education
Parents might tell their kids about legal penalties if one is caught breaking the law and may say it is morally wrong to steal from, harm or tell lies to others. To know what is said to be right and wrong is one thing, but to understand why it is a good rule is another. How many parents are not at home to explain their views e.g. when their kids are watching television. They may be too tired to be other than permissive in their attitude to bad behaviour in the home.
It is good to show care for others by respecting their property, helping them, and being honest with them. The hope for society is that the spiritual principles behind moral codes can be shown by adults engaging in responsible rather than permissive parenting: then the principles can be seen as good and acceptable.
It is up to their offspring to do the rest – to think about matters, to accept what is a moral guideline worthy of following, to resolve to follow it in personal life and to resist temptation to go against it – these are all different stages in moral development.
But if they are not brought up to appreciate what makes laws good and useful they are unlikely to obey them if they believe they can get away with it. When the mob is doing crime, this is exactly what those joining in assume. They will be lost in the crowd. Their natural tendency to self-love and conceit that they know best then take over.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems