Teenagers chatting with parentsParenting is just one of the complex pieces in the puzzle of why the riots happened in the summer. This was apparent in the Westminster Debate last night. In the atmospheric House of Commons academics and parents discussed the importance of the role of a parent. The key role of parents in teaching children right from wrong, and passing on a moral code was highlighted.

The panel debated ‘Supporting families after the riots and the role of family law.’ Judge Nicholas Chrichton spoke about his sadness and frustration in removing the fourteenth child from the same mother due to her inability to parent, and the cost of up to a million pounds that that some families cost the tax payer. He spoke of the huge difficulties faced by children in the care system and how they are so much more likely to turn to crime. Judge Nicholas works in the Family Drug and Alcohol Team (FDAT) which is a hub of good practice in getting three children out of the care system more quickly – but his weariness of the difficulties of breaking the cycle of poor parenting was apparent.

Elaine Halligan is a friend of mine and a parenting expert from the Parent Practice in London. She spoke of her sadness that parents were being blamed for the riots and talked about the importance of parents setting boundaries and knowing where their children were. Elaine was passionate about how parenting classes can help, but raised the difficulty that attending a parenting course can be viewed negatively. She commented on how it is often the father who is sent on a parenting course by the courts and suggested that both men and women should be encouraged by the courts update their parenting skills and dispel the myth that parenting courses are for bad parents.

David Allison, a partner at the Family Law in Partnership, made the point that although there was a range of reasons why children were involved in the riots, none excused their behaviour. He talked about the numerous non-confrontational ways of helping families meet the needs of their children when divorcing, and the benefit to everyone of sorting out issues before they went to court. He talked about the social cost of withdrawing legal aid to the country, and about the dilemma of prioritising the finances for legal aid and preventative work for parents with our huge national deficit.

Sue Atkins, a parenting expert from the BBC then talked about how many of the 4000 rioters arrested did not regret their actions. She said that parents have a key role in raising law abiding children with strong values. Sue was infuriated by two UNICEF reports that suggested that children were un-cherished and un-nurtured and implied we are a nation of bad parents. She also highlighted the difficulty that parenting help can be seen as taboo and said that children need our presence not our presents. She said that parents needed to teach children self-discipline and accept that they were more important role models than footballers or actors. She added that children spell love T.I.M.E.

Questions from the floor raised the sheer difficulty of finding a simple answer to a complex question. I mentioned my two roles running parenting courses and working for the YMCA helping parents-to-be who have had abuse or neglect in the past break the cylce. When I asked the panel how they would break the cycle of abuse in raising children, they agreed that parenting courses were important, but did not know how the most deprived parents could be encouraged to attend one. It seems that the answer lies in educating our youngsters in school.

Other attendees asked about whether parents should not just innately know how to parent, and the difficulty of abuse in the care system. However the largest amount of time was devoted to the difficulties of divorced fathers in having access to their children. Their frustrations and anger were directed at the legal system in allowing 24% of children in the UK to have no contact with their fathers. It was moving to witness the upset this was causing the fathers – a sad reflection that in the UK we still don’t recognise the vital role that fathers have in bringing up their children.

For me the debate highlighted the sheer difficulty parents are facing in bringing up their children. The care system and absent fathers deprive children of good parenting role models and the ability to witness effective relationship skills. The ability to pass on good moral values is hampered by parents not knowing how to give their children boundaries and effective discipline. When parents realise that they do not have all the skills they need they risk the judgement of others if they seek help in improving their parenting skills.

Teaching our children life skills at home and at school will go some way towards helping them to be good parents in the future. But we need to find a way to help parents in the UK access non-judgemental effective parenting techniques based on instilling values. This is vital if we want to give the next generation the best chance of being effective parents themselves and avoid the riots of the future waiting to happen.