Bad Kids? Train the Parents

Here’s an interesting paper from the British Medical Journal which argues that children’s anti-social behavior can be significantly altered by training their parents to be better parents. (And here is the BMJ‘s editorial summary.)

The paper’s authors conducted a randomized study with 153 socially disadvantaged Welsh parents with children aged 3 or 4. Some of the parents were given a 12-week “intervention programme,” in which two professionals taught the parents how to reward, punish, and discipline their children. The control group of parents were wait-listed for this workshop.

The results showed that the children of the parents who took the workshop behaved significantly better afterward, at least in the short term. The authors make the point that, since childhood anti-social behavior is a strong indicator of adult anti-social behavior and criminality, the findings are potentially very important.

This kind of study does make you wonder why, here in the U.S., where you must acquire a license to drive a car, sell real-estate, or hunt deer, there is no such license (or commensurate training) for raising children. I’m not saying there should be such a license.

Or maybe I am?


Trying to find a generalized reason for bad kids is like watching a monkey try to copulate with a football. Similarly Shakespeare defined the reason for falling in love in Midsummer's Night Dream as being the result of fairy dust (i.e. nothing). It's different for every parent/kid.

Parents need to consider their responsibilities and who they are accountable to when making decisions (thanks for the advice Viktor Frankl). Just like many people in corporate America (or American politics for that matter) - we all seem in search of that plausible excuse of why we screwed up before we actually screw anything up. Take responsibility and do less exercising of that "I'm entitled to this" muscle - parents and children will all be much happier and "better behaved".


I'm saying there should be such a license.
The world is terribly overpopulated, and it seems that the majority of the breeding is coming from people who can't afford their kids.

And, of course, the welfare system in this country adds to the problem, by rewarding breeders with more money, for each drooling bologna loaf they bring into the world.

Look around- you'll notice that the educated, financially stable people are for the most part, choosing to have 1 or 2 children, MAXIMUM, if they choose to breed at all.

I'm all for a program that calls for mandatory birth control for people on Welfare. And, MUCH more access to birth control/education for people living below the poverty line.


the childfree chick who had a tubal ligation instead of a baby


How people raise their kids is too important to regulate. For something this important, we need the buffer of natural variation to save us from our own clever ideas.

Start adding clever new ideas and we will soon face the law of unintended consequences.

It's fine to grapple with that law for minor social conveniences like car registration and real estate certification, but bringing up kids is on a whole other level. We don't want unintended consequences in a positive feedback spiral in a domain like this.


I can think of two big reasons why there is no licensing requirement to have children.

1) The religious right would start screaming bloody murder.

2) It's pretty much unenforceable. I mean... what are you going to do, start jailing pregnant women for having children without a license? What about the father - does he do time, also? And if you jail the parents, then the kids grow up raised by the state and by foster homes which would probably defeat the whole purpose of the license, anyway.


I do not believe a license is required. However, parenting training of fathers and mothers who happen to be in jail seems like a reasonable idea. The good parents seek help.


So we should become China? No thanks.

I realize the strain it puts on our social economy, but you'll never be able to legislate AND enforce a law to stop people from being stupid. They always find a way.

But with that in mind...should there be license or at least some sort of test to test the intelligence of anyone chosen to serve on jury duty or vote?


It's certainly true that those who are less able to afford children (financially and perhaps psychologically) have the most. But I don't think that means we need to impose mandatory birth control. That is perhaps putting the cart in front of the horse. A study of economics seems to show that a lowering of birth rate results from a bettering of economic conditions. It would seem to me we need to focus on decreasing poverty, not limiting childbirth.


so what age would the license begin?- could we 'drive' at 17?


Who is to decide what to teach? I'm not comfortable with this being in the hands of legislators and bureaucrats. It smacks of fascism at worst, social engineering at best. If parents were given the option to choose among numerous programs and religious and social oranizations were "encouraged" to offer such programs, I would be less wary.

With that said, assuming this type of program were to be implemented, the best option is to wait until there is a clear indicator of a problem. But that leaves the questions as to whether it would then be too late to have lasting impact. Parents could opt in to such a program early on, but requiring such a thing prior to having children would certainly be deemed unconstitional.


South Park has tastefully and thoughtfully (as always) dealt with this issue. In an episode named "the Dog Whisperer", Cesar is called in after Eric Cartman fails to be molded into a good child by "SuperNanny" and the other TV celebrity nanny shows.

Cesar teaches Eric's mom, Liane, how to properly discipline Eric and he does become a model child. However, Liane was not actually interested in helping Eric, but was using the whole exercise as a way to gain the affections of Cesar.

When Cesar does not return Liane's affections and leaves the city, Liane reverts to buying Eric's affections and using Eric to fulfill her needs. Eric's good child behavior then falls apart and he reverts to his old self.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have clearly laid the problem of poorly behaving children at the feet of their parents.


Having spent a good deal of time working in emergency and critical care medicine, it always amazed me that we make people get licenses to drive, burn fires, and run stores (for just a few examples) but that we do not require people to be licensed to breed.


In honor of the creators of this blog, I think we need to find incentives to encourage parent training, and I don't think a government-issued/controlled license is the right path.

Maybe the private sector.

We recently adopted a child from Lutheran Social Services.

As part of our adoption class, we took a series of classes, including parenting, that were either funded by the agency or where something we paid for.

They also hosted "panels" - meetings where those considering adoption could meet with adoptive and birth parents and learn directly from their experience.

This agency also offers parenting classes to mothers not considering adoption as part of a baby wellness program. I think this is either offered on a sliding-fee scale, or free depending on the mother's financial situation.

During the adoptive process, we also found out that our health insurance offered a series of no-copay parenting classes, which were very helpful.

It appears that the private sector has some answers for parental training.

Any other ideas?



Licencing is a poor idea... "freedom for all" and whatnot.

However, providing incentive for people to attend parenting classes (such as through a tax credit or other financial carrot) would be a method of having parents become more effectual without stripping them of their liberty.

And...just to be petulant, what if you only get pregnant because the contraception failed? How can you legislate that?

Oh... and by the by heatherlyn, my Masters educated top 10 percent income bracket parents have four kids. You need to look beyond the hype.


my Masters educated top 10 percent income bracket parents have four kids. You need to look beyond the hype.

That's anecdotal...not demographic. The latter always wins over the former.


children are little learning machines that follow example. in a society that would rather do ANYTHING than change its own behavior (especially if its pharmaceutical),it is hard to see an effective solution actually taking place. plus, the issue of who determines what makes a successful parent and/or child...


Of course we all understand the appeal of a license to have children (especially adoptive parents, I bet) but, come on, this is America. No one wants to go there. Well, no lover of liberty would, that is. Who decides the criteria for reproduction? It's not like this hasn't been attempted before and it isn't long before it gets really ugly.
Oldest of 6 anecdotal, college-educated, middle-class, productive citizens


P.S. "drooling bologna loaf"??? WOW


Similar to the topic...

I was at a local sports bar/restaurant last night with a buddy of mine watching WWE Wrestlemania. My buddy is a big fan, I really don't care for wrestling, but I just moved back to this state so I wanted to sit and have a beer with him.

At the table next to us are two parents and their two young boys (8 and 10) who all were intensely watching the TV's with Wrestlemania on it. The one kid has a broken right arm. Over the course of the night we talked with the parents and asked what happened to the younger boy's arm.

As it turns out, the two boys were wrestling at home and imitating the moves from WWE when the boy broke his arm.

The parents knew that their intentional exposure of WWE to their kids directly correlated to the broken arm, yet they still allow their kid to watch the event as a treat and put no discipline towards them when they began fighting 3 feet from the table.

I'm not sure where I was going with this rant, but.. yeah



Assuming the kind of training used in the study is in fact similar to "Supernanny" I think teaching behavioral psychology in high schools would have a similar effect. I spent 5 years teaching children with autism using Applied Behavioir Analysis, and have found that the same principals apply to every single social situation I find myself in. I think it should be required learning for all, wether they become parents or not.


The notion of licensing persons to have children is obnoxious to say the least. There is an inherent human right to pass on his/her genetic information with a mutually committed parent. To think that the right to have children is being tested on the basis of some brats is simply shocking. Children behave poorly because they are testing the limits of social acceptability with their parents. It is rare to find a child that knows the correct way to act from birth. How misguided are those who would advocate licensing for this reason - do they not understand the basic foundations of socialisation of their own species??