Intensive Parenting Enforced: Parents Criminal Liability for Children Skipping School

I have written here about the trend of intensive parenting. Parents today are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before, constantly cultivating and monitoring their children’s progress. In our article, Over-Parenting, Zvi Triger and I caution against legal enforcement of intensive parenting norms. One area in which states have been most active recently in enforcing intensive parenting norms is parental involvement in schools.

Earlier this month California’s Senate adopted a bill that authorizes prosecutors to charge a parent with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine, if her child skips school on a regular basis. This law enforces intensive parenting. Parents engaging in intensive parenting are extremely involved in their children’s school activities. Volunteering in school activities, whether as a class trip chaperon or in school events has become the norm among both working and non-working parents.  Schools provide parents with access to the school website to monitor children’s grades, class attendance and even lunch menus. Parents regularly attend family mornings at their children’s schools and are required to participate in children’s homework preparation through questions targeted specifically at them. Given this background, the California Bill, as extreme as it may sound to some, is not surprising. This Bill merely seeks to enforce what has already become a dominant social norm of intensive parental involvement in children’s school lives.

Some may think that the California Bill is not such a bad idea.  After all don’t we want to ensure that children attend school regularly and eventually graduate from high-school. However, what may be a desirable social norm is not necessarily a good legal standard. A stay-at-home mom dealing with a difficult teenager and successfully assuring that her daughter attends school on a regular basis is no doubt helping her daughter. But do we want to hold the mother who fails to do so criminally liable?  Parents are differently situated in their ability to control their children. Intensive parenting is a middle class parenting norm. Lower income class parents juggling several jobs may not have the flexibility to personally supervise  their children to ensure they don’t skip school. In addition, this Bill, like intensive parenting norms, is in practice, gender biased. Intensive parenting heavily burdens mothers.  Should states adopt and enforce laws holding parents criminally liable for their children’s school attendance, it will most likely be the mother, who is usually seen responsible for children’s daily activities, who will end up being held criminally liable.

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5 Responses

  1. Not sure if I’d accuse parents ensuring their kids are in school of “intensive parenting”; seems rather a bare minimum to me but this could just be semantics.

    I’m kind of surprised that this (truancy) is still a problem in CA – what with the President’s moving words of encouragement to stay or get in school. But I’m guessing the $2,000 fine is probably the selling point for a cash-strapped state like CA.

    And what happens if it turns out that such a law “disproportionately impacts” (see, I can talk like a liberal activist) the illegal – I mean undocumented – “community”? Can they avoid jail and/or the fine by just agreeing to go back home? Would this be a deportable offense?(it could be spun as child neglect or abuse).

    So many questions – still I’m inclined to agree with you that this would not be a good law. Instead, when it comes to truancy, I’d suggest CA stick with the old tried-and-true favorites: Blame Society and, of course, George Bush.

  2. DelD says:

    Meanwhile, in parts of rural Northern Calfornia, felony prosecutions for truancy are all the rage…


  3. Holding people responsible for something they have no control over is simply absurd.

    We’re not talking about automatons here, these are living, breathing people with a will of their own.

    Parents can talk, cajole, even threaten all they want, if that young person decides not to obey, there’s nothing anyone can do except punish them after the fact (and it’s well-established that punishment is one of the least effective methods of inducing long-term behaviour changes).

    Parents can drive the kids, door to door, deposit them personally in the classroom, if the kid decides to duck out (and they’ll find a way, even in the strictest environments – kids can have tremendous willpower) there’s nothing the parents, teachers, or school administrators can do about it.

    Short of creating an atmosphere of slavery by standing over them with a whip 24/7, or completely breaking their will with “brainwashing” and torture techniques, nobody has complete control over another human being.

    Want to keep kids in school? Make it interesting enough that they *want* to stay.

    Listen to the kids! They’re telling you that the schooling you’re providing for them is BORING THEM TO DEATH!