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Can Govt Solve Our Problems ... A Better Way?

Can Government Solve Our Problems Or Is There A Better Way?

The call by the Children’s Commissioner for a new ‘reckless parenting’ law raises a critical issue for our society. Mr McClay made his call in reaction to ten year-olds found home alone smoking dope and watching porn, but can the government solve our social problems or is there a better way?

Increasing law and government does not deal with the underlying problems. If our families, communities, voluntary organisations and businesses were all working properly, the state would not have to step in. These institutions are examples of how society can operate to protect the freedom of individuals from state control. When they fail in their roles, the task of the state increases.

In the 10 years olds’ case there has been an obvious breakdown, and Mr McClay is rightly concerned about them. But to criminalise the parents is not a long-term answer. Do we really believe that the way to get parents to spend more time with their kids is to threaten to lock them up? And how far does ‘reckless parenting’ go? Would it be ‘reckless’ to feed the kids takeaways more than twice a week?

Of course parents and individuals should be more responsible. To immediately call for the government to sort it out is to abdicate our responsibility as members of properly functioning civil society.

Consider instead the positive campaign by the Warehouse and Tindall Foundation, which encourages parents that “the most important thing you can spend on your kids is time”.

Some key points arise from this incident and how we respond to it.
We can either have a policeman in every head or one on every street corner. What were the parents of these kids thinking in allowing them to be left alone? Rather than using law as a blunt instrument to change behaviour, it is preferable to promote individual and community responsibility. A great start would be to look to the voluntary sector to provide support and encourage parenting courses.

It is already illegal to leave kids under 14 at home alone in what the Summary Offences Act calls ‘unreasonable conditions’. That law just needs to be enforced.

Furthermore there is a tragic inconsistency in our approach to family law. On the one hand we want stricter laws that punish parents for their failings, while on the other we have passed laws over the last 30 years that have consistently weakened the family. For example, the recent Paid Parental Leave law is likely to contribute to more cases of children being left to their own devices because it reinforces the idea that it is more important in the long term to have parents at work than at home with the kids.

Parents and individuals should be more responsible for not only themselves and their families but the wider community in which we live. When things go wrong we all pay for the consequences. But every time we bypass the chance to help the policeman in the head and instead put another one on the street corner we diminish the need for personal responsibility.

In a Civil Society the family is the basic building block, because it is there that citizens learn basic values like honesty, self restraint and respect. And the foundation for strong families is marriage, which research shows has no equal as an environment for raising children. It is about commitment, not only between a man and woman but to their children as well. The intergenerational family also has a vital role in providing support and passing on heritage from one generation to the next.

Society works best when these institutions fulfil their role with minimal intrusion from the state. Every year in New Zealand charitable organisations inspire tens of thousands of parents to spend time with their kids. They don’t threaten them with criminal charges. They encourage them. They help them with resources and give them a dream.

That is the approach we should take when a family breaks down. Reach for the parenting book rather than the law book.


Greg Fleming
Managing Director, Maxim Institute

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