Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Smoking behind the bicycle sheds

Jonathan Calder deals here with the issue of 12-year-olds being prescribed nicotine patches and whether parents should be told about this.

The different branches of the state seem to give out very mixed messages about parenting. On the one hand we have parenting orders, parenting classes, ASBOs and ABCs, all of which are designed to put greater responsibility on parents for the conduct of their children. Parents can even be prosecuted for their children's truancy from school.

Then another branch of the state, in the form of GPs, counsellors etc, will withold information that parents need to know if they are to carry out their responsibilities properly. This controversy mirrors those concerning under-age children having abortions or being prescribed contraception.

While I don't have empirical evidence for this, I suspect that children who smoke or regularly have sex under-age are more likely to get into trouble in other ways – truanting or shoplifting, for example. Parents should be treated as responsible adults so that they can be aware of problem behaviour in their children and takes steps to put it right – after all they would be expected to sign a piece of paper if their child was in detention at school. On a more prosaic note, I wonder how effective nicotine patches will be if children end up taking them off when they go home in case their parents find out.

As a society we seem unsure whether parents are part of the problem or part of the solution when it comes to children's behaviour. We blame them when their children are out of control but at other times treat them as objects of suspicion.

Of course it stands to reason that if professionals have genuine evidence to make them suspect a child will be at risk if they share a certain piece of information with parents, they should be allowed to use their discretion. But surely the presumption should be in favour of adult solidarity.

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