Intensive Parenting Enforced: Parents Criminal Liability for Children Skipping School
posted by Gaia Bernstein
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.