Parenting, Communities and Crime

I came across a 1995 article by David T. Lykken attempting to make the case – both sensible and crazy – that society should require parents to be licensed before they can have children, an argument propounded by a libertarian, not a totalitarian, if I am understanding the last paragraph. John Stuart Mill is utilized for choice quotes, and a lot of interesting statistics about criminality are bandied about. Blame for the rise in the number of delinquents, punks and desperadoes is put on the shoulders of absent dads, single moms, and incompetent parents, as you would expect. Lykken is known for his work in twin studies, and lie detection.

1995 is the middle of a precipitous decline of crime in America, rather than an explosion of rape and murder, but such things are difficult to see as they are occurring.

crime rates falling 1990s

This graph is from Steven Levitt’s famous article, later developed into the bestseller “Freakonomics”, linking legalized abortion and the drop in crime. With Levitt, the bad-parents-create-bad-children argument is implied.

This is all interesting stuff. However, I found the most interesting part of the Lykken article to be a paragraph in the middle, about the role of community in shoring up poor parenting. It takes a village, after all:

Good parents, who are able to maintain the affection and respect of their children and whose offspring admire them and value their good opinion, can be reasonably certain that their values and ways of socialized behaving will be adopted by the next generation. The children of less effective, less competent parents will be more likely to adopt the customs and values of the peer group. [Small, close-knit] communities will achieve the same result. In urban or suburban communities, the offspring…will be somewhat more at risk…as the community grows in size and in mutual estrangement, the likelihood increases that there will be a few neglected, undisciplined or feral children in the peer group-faux-adult role models to whom a child not closely tied to home and parents may be drawn, and by whom that child will be influenced….we can reasonably conjecture that the relative importance of the peer group in shaping the values and behaviors of a given child is inversely proportional to the competence of that child’s parents.

I am interested in this because I am wondering how a community can grow to be “small and close knit” in an urban setting, since, the future is urban:

urbanization by continent

And it is not only urban, but peer-oriented and media-oriented, rather than family- or community-oriented. I think that Lykken was right about a lot of things – we seem to have created a veritable garden of sociopathy – but wrong about the solution. Licensing parents implies an Orwellian state. Lykken suggests parents who parent without a license would be implanted with antifertility drugs, sent to institutions to learn parenting…No, no.

A less fraught, more effective and scalable way to help society raise healthy, sane children would be to figure out how to support the creation and maintenance of communities.

Author: Caterina Fake

Literature, Art, Poetry, Homeschooling Mother. Founder & CEO, Findery. Co-founder, Flickr & Hunch.

4 thoughts on “Parenting, Communities and Crime”

  1. This now older piece by Gladwell (The New Yorker) comes to mind:

    If memory serves, Rich was unpopular because she was early to push the idea that peers matter more than parents.

    Many years ago when my wife heard about Hillary’s book: It Takes a Village she started on a rant: we don’t need experts to tell us how to raise our kids, we need parents to model and the ability to learn as we go.

    I grew up as our culture was moving away from the German psychologists and their tough love ideas and toward Spock which, according to my mother, was a great thing, according to my father, was creating a bunch of wimps. My parents were not great parents and frankly, neither am I. My wife’s parents (mostly her mother) were great parents and so is she and so is her (my step) younger daughter. There’s something to it.

    Having watched a parallel evolution (devolution) in the area of education, I’m inclined to agree with my wife: experts have interesting ideas but the folks in the trenches who are inventive seem to come up with the most effective ideas that stick. Trickle down doesn’t work, grassroots does. Better yet, individuals need to be aware of their own experience and come up with a ideas for living and learning that best support them.

    All of this is terribly undermined by the social internet and its various popularity contests where people will do all sorts of things to be popular.

    Whoops, I drifted. It’s too early….


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