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This is an idea that has been floated by some education reform advocates
(mainly conservatives) who believe that the problem of childhood discipline
in the classroom cannot be remedied unless parents themselves are acting
at home to engender good disciplinary habits in their children. The idea was
briefly enacted in both Florida and Michigan. In Florida small fines were
imposed on parents and in Michigan coveted parking permits were
suspended when children misbehaved. Both programs were promptly
discontinued due to parental outcry. In the United Kingdom there have been
cases of parents being jailed for failing to stop their children being truant
from school.[1]
Future iterations of this idea in the United States may involve charter schools
where parents of children with track records of disciplinary problems
voluntarily enrol their children in a school with such a contract. Charter
schools can state explicit requirements of students in terms of behaviour in
their charter which can then be legally enforced.[2] Modelling the debate in
this fashion may help avoid some of the parental consent issues of the
debate, although it is by no means necessary for proposition to take this
strategy in the debate.
Another version of this debate is to hold parents liable for the criminal
actions of children during school going years. For instance, if a child is
caught shop lifting, one might impose a fine on the parents in addition to
punishment handed down to the child. Some of the arguments below are
tailored more specifically to this version of the debate, although the
arguments considered can be modified to fit into either debate.
The assumption behind this brief is that by and large the children being
discussed are those with chronic discipline problems.


1. Parental Incentives
2. Collaborative Approach
3. Children Held Accountable

4. Parental Responsibility

Parental Incentives
Addressing the behavioural problems of children requires active parental
participation. However, in many cases, parents are either not fully aware of
their childrens problems, or more importantly, delay the active disciplining
of their children.
This is critical, as for the cycle of negative and positive reinforcement to be
effective in behaviour modification, there must be a temporal link between
misbehaviour and any potential punishment. In a desire to avoid future
fines, or whatever the penalty the parents face, there is an active incentive
to not only intervene in the childs misbehaviour, but also to do so in a timely
way, which is the most proven way to change childrens behaviour.
Moreover, if there is any tendency for parents to overlook or avoid the
problems of chronically unruly children, this serves as an impetus for keeping
up with discipline notices and paying attention to the childs infractions.
The danger for abuse argument from the opposition side is a good
counterargument. Moreover, one might analyse the probabilities that this
particular incentive will be a tipping point in the case of marginal parents
(the ones that are not already fully involved in their childrens discipline for
whom this might be the tipping point). Most caring parents will already be
quite invested and do the best they can because they care for their child.
Those who do lapse likely have some sort of structural familial problems,
whether they hold many jobs and work very hard to keep the family going, or
are simply bad parents. In these cases, is this likely to be the factor that
changes these parents behaviours? Unlikely.

Collaborative Approach

In order for a childs misbehaviour to be successfully remedied, the child

must receive a consistent message on what is appropriate both at home and
at school. In many instances parents may condone behaviour that schools
and teacher find unacceptable. In other instances, professionals at schools
can aid parents in targeting specific behaviours to work on in a specific order
in a program that integrates the childs behaviour at both school and home.
Moreover, uniform and consistent rewards and negative reinforcements from
school and home are tremendously useful for helping rehabilitate a childs
When initiating such programs, the major problem is often that the parents
give in and do not adhere to the agreed upon program, which serves to teach
the child that unacceptable behaviour is sometimes condonable. Its
understandable that parents, who must be with the children a majority of the
time, sometimes may find it easier to simply give in and pacify the child and
inadvertently award destructive behaviour. Therefore, a system of parental
investment, as proposed here, will ensure that the parents have something
riding on sticking to a disciplinary program as well, which ultimately aids the
In the case of parents being penalized for criminal offenses by children, one
can modify this argument to fit by noting that often juvenile facilities will use
schools as part of a behavioural modification program, therefore the
consistency noted above is still critical.
The temporal linking argument itself cannot be disputed, but the idea that
this is what gets parents invested can again be questioned, as noted above.

Children Held Accountable

Often, children who have been trapped in a cycle of lack of discipline and
disciplinary problems tend not to care about their punishment.[1] Detention
may be seen as a welcome respite from classes, and other punishments over
time may cease to make an impression on the child. After all, there is only
so much that an institution can do to discipline a child.

Using this mechanism opens up a far more effective repertoire of discipline.

More importantly, while the child may cease to regard any punishments
handed down on him or her, often there will still be a desire to avoid actively
harming the parents, which occurs under this system.[2]
The argument also extends in the case of criminal punishments. In the
psychology of a child, he or she may not fully internalize the effects on their
future a shoplifting arrest may have. However, the thought of their parents
being punished in such an offense may lead to the deterrence necessary to
prevent such actions.
In effect, the argument is that when punishments to the child him or herself
fail to act as a deterrent, the child seeing punishments imposed on the
parents as a result of his or her actions may reinvigorate the deterrent
In addition, this allows an extra tool in the teachers arsenal, and the mere
thought of perhaps triggering a parental punishment may help bring some
children into line.
Authority aversion is a good counterargument here. (see op argument 4)

Parental Responsibility
In most cases, in which the child is not subject to some sort of constitutional
problem (genetic condition or otherwise), the disruptive behaviour of a child
is a reflection of in adequate parental intervention over time. A normal child
under normal circumstances should be expected to conform to behavioural
expectations, and the failure to do so represents a partial inadequate job by
the parents.
The result is a cost that is transmitted to society. Children that are disruptive
in school or in society via the criminal justice system cost the system extra
money either in school resources and time or judicial-police resources as well
as in the more obvious costs such as fixing vandalism and graffiti.[1] Even
worse; if a student drops out as a result of his discipline problems the cost to
society has been estimated as $232,000-388,000.[2] Given that the parent is
in part to blame for failing to control the childs behaviour, in the time during

which the parent is the primary custodian of the child, it is fair to pass on a
measure of this cost to the parent.
The unjust argument is a good counter. One could cite some neurobiology
evidence that lack of discipline is due to complex cognitive deficits that
manifest through delayed brain development even in otherwise normal
seeming children, which belies the parental responsibility/failure view. To
start with, cognitive deficits can be caused by genetic factors or other things
which started before birth, and can stop children being able to function


Individual Responsibility
Danger for Abuse
Authority Aversion

Individual Responsibility
The philosophy underling the proposition is one in which the child is not
solely responsible for his or her own behaviour. Even if the threats of
parental punishment and involvement are successful in the short term in
modifying a childs behaviour, the long term sequlae is that the childs good
behaviour is predicated not on an understanding of the consequence of their
behaviour and a consideration of their own long term interests, but merely
out of fear and external consequences.
In the long run, instilling this message is likely to lead to future misbehaviour
as the external punishments, in this case imposed on the parents, fall away.
Once the child reaches an age at which the parents cannot be punished or
the child does not care about parental punishment, building an ethic around
such external consequences will fail to deter the child from misbehaviour.
(See argument 4)

Children are too young to internalize and understand broad philosophies of

responsibility. A small child refrains from stealing a cookie out of fear of
being caught, not out of some grand regard for a morally just universe in
which his actions must be scrutinized. Later on, as the child gets older,
his/her understanding can mature.

There is an argument to be made that this form of punishment of parents is
simply unjust. The legal basis of punishment is based on the principle that a
sane individual is fully responsible for his or her actions. One can always
point to dysfunctional families or other influences that may have had an
effect on an individuals actions, but the level of influence is impossible to
quantify. Therefore, any level of punishment that is meted out to external
sources cannot be matched proportionally to actions taken by these outside
parties, thereby abrogating the principle of proportional punishment. As a
result, any just system of punishment is bound by this constraint, and
shifting responsibility to external sources is not consistent with our
This argument functions best in the criminal justice context, but applies in
the school context as well. Schools that adopt this policy must examine the
ethical underpinnings of the policy, and if the policy itself is immoral, then
regardless of its efficacy (which is disputed in the first argument and later
on) the policy should not be adopted.
The parental responsibility argument is a good counter here. An appeal to
the fact that some lax parents clearly raise spoiled children can also be
effective in building intuition about the notion that parents are imposing a
cost through their actions.

Danger for Abuse


Many children that have consistent behavioural problems at school come

from dysfunctional families in which either physical or emotional abuse and
neglect is common. This has then resulted in behavior disorders such as
Oppositional Defiant Disorder.[1]While it would be nice to believe that
parents would respond to the stated incentives in a healthy way, it must be
considered that it is just as likely that in some of these households parents
would crack down violently (again, either emotionally or physically ) on their
children. Such actions by parental role models often lead to a vicious cycle
in which the behaviour is then continued at school and in future generations.
It is difficult to say what proportion of households may respond in this
fashion, but if even a small proportion of children are actively harmed by this
policy, it is a strong argument against its uniform adoption.
[1] Behaviour Problems in Children and Adolescents, Childrens Mental
Health Ontario,
One could say that in cases in which abuse is suspected the program would
be suspended for that child, and that teachers always have an obligation to
report abuse (in the U.S., anyhow).

Authority Aversion
A short argument, but a potentially powerful one. The assumption that
children will not act out even more under such a regime in a bid to lash out
at parents is untenable. Misbehaviour at school is often a rebellion against
authority anyway, and the ultimate authority in most childrens lives is the
parents. Therefore, as acting out against both of these institutions is
consistent with the misbehaving mind set, it follows that tying school
misbehaviour to parental detriments is unlikely to affect the child and may
even serve to encourage their bad deeds.
One way to deal with this argument is by noting that this would be one tool
in a schools arsenal. If it proves to be obviously counterproductive, then it
will not be employed, in the same way that other disciplinary tactics

schools/society can impose will not be used if they are seen to be adverse or