Youth and Authority 7

Now when I say working with other representatives of authority, I don’t just mean some kind of generalised co-operativeness. If we are to be helpful, it is important that we have got something to say arising from our understanding of the predicament of these individuals and their families. Some of what we have to say should be comments on the service provided by other agencies, and it is to this that I now wish to move.

First of all, our experience suggests it is no use trying to deal with difficult, disruptive or rebellious youth by simply calling for harsher punishment. This would be rather like hankering for the old authority and certainty of the past. The issue here is not whether such punishment is justified by the behaviour of the youngster, but there may be different views about that. The point here is that harsher punishment of itself is not effective or helpful. The harshness or otherwise of punishment is not the crucial factor in the management of destructive behaviour and there is plenty of evidence for this nowadays. Professor West of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology has recently done a study into the roots of delinquency, and one of the findings of that work was that boys whose parents imposed harsh discipline were significantly more delinquency prone than others. This also applied more strongly where parents imposed erratic discipline.

Some important research has also been done by Harriet Wilson, who investigated a group of 10 and 11 years old boys. Here it was found there did appear to be a link between delinquency and what was termed ‘lax parental supervision’. It is important here to distinguish between’ laxness’ and ‘permissiveness’. Permissive parents may indeed be lax, but the point about laxness is that it relates to the quality of supervision provided by parents, not the quality of punishment provided by parents. Laxness here seems to be more about neglectful attitudes, or inadequacy, or parental preoccupation with their own problems and difficulties, so that the needs of the young people can be overlooked.

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