What’s parenting got to do with it? How parenting fits into the August 2011 riots in England

The last week has seen many explanations put forward for the riots in England; while the factors that led to the rioting are many and complex, the quality of parenting is a significant part of the jigsaw.

In response to the riots, David Cameron has just announced a review of all policies to ensure they are good for families, saying “if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society, family and parenting is where we’ve got to start”.

Whatever the possible reasons – a genuine protest at a shooting, hostility towards the police, irresponsible and copycat opportunism, gang-related activity, an increasingly acquisitive culture at all levels of society, a poverty of hope, income inequality – there were undoubtedly many young people involved whose parents should have kept them away from trouble.

“Good enough” parenting which we know must include warmth, consistency, firm boundaries and positive regard builds the foundation for a child to grow up feeling loved and valued. In turn, children can develop the capacity to trust and to empathise, to respect other people, and to understand the consequences of their behaviour.

The ability to parent well can be made more stressful by factors, such as poverty, but poverty itself is not the main determinant, “there is no clear-cut causal link between poverty and parenting” (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2007).

Children begin to learn about the consequences of their own actions in infancy. For teenagers, as they struggle with the transition from childhood to adulthood, peers may become more important but parents are still crucial. Teenagers still need to know where the boundaries are and parents still need to know where and with whom their younger teenagers are spending their time.    

The challenges of raising children are difficult for anyone, especially as their children move into the teenage years. But for a parent who did not experience “good enough” parenting themselves, it may be even more challenging. We have heard many parents since the riots claim that the law is stopping them from disciplining their child. Yet discipline is not about physical punishment but setting firm boundaries and we need to help parents understand that there are effective ways of managing difficult behaviour.

There is a wealth of evidence showing that parenting can be significantly improved, with better outcomes for children. For example, evaluation of the Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities parenting programme showed an increase in the use of positive discipline and communication strategies as well as an increase in both the parent’s and the child’s competence. Another evaluation of the Group Teen Triple P programme showed that it achieved its goals of reducing targeted risk factors associated with the development of behavioural and emotional problems in teenagers.

Parenting UK believes that we need to understand how the quality of parenting fits into a wider more complex picture of recent events. Parenting education and support works. It should be readily available on a universal basis, for example through health visitors, and targeted where needed.

Parenting UK calls for the government to recognise parenting as a key factor in building strong families and strong communities. We challenge decision-makers to focus on the causes of the problems by:

  • Encouraging a shift in social norms so that parenting is seen as a life skill that one can learn and improve
  • Ensuring parenting is included in the school curriculum so the next generation of parents are introduced to positive parenting principles and have an understanding of child development skills
  • Ensuring parenting education and support is widely available, with both universal provision, beginning in the antenatal period  and targeted support when needed
  • More proactive use of parenting orders and intensive interventions rather than custodial sentences or eviction orders which should only be used a last resort, to help families reform.


Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Relationship between parenting and poverty  2007

Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities



Media enquiries

Rachel Tonkin, Parenting UK


07545 758056


Spokespeople available for interview or comment:

Pamela Park
, Chief Executive, Parenting UK

Eileen Hayes
, Patron, Parenting UK
Eileen Hayes is a parent of four, Parenting and Child Behaviour Expert, author, magazine columnist, trained family counsellor and parent coach, and frequent broadcaster on television and radio.

Dame Jane Roberts DBE, Chair, Parenting UK
Jane became Chair of Parenting UK in December 2006. She has experience in a wide range of roles in the public and third sectors, especially local government, health and education. Professionally, Jane is a medical doctor, a consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Whittington Hospital, as well as an executive director of a primary care trust for eight years until autumn 2010.  She was a councillor at the London Borough of Camden for 16 years, and Leader from 2000 until 2005.

Prof Sarah Stewart-Brown, Trustee, Parenting UK
Sarah Stewart-Brown is chair of Public Health at Warwick University and is currently Director of the Health Science Research Institute in Warwick Medical School. Sarah studied medicine at the University of Oxford and at the Westminster Hospital in London. She worked in the National Health Service from 1974–1994 first as a paediatrician and subsequently as a Public Health doctor in London, Bristol and Worcester. She also held academic appointments at the Departments of Child Health, and of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Bristol. Before joining the Institute she was a Reader in the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford where she directed the Health Services Research Unit.

Dr John Coleman OBE, Trustee, Parenting UK
John Coleman is a psychologist whose primary interest is adolescence. He is the Founder of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence (now renamed Young People in Focus) and was the Director of the organisation from 1989 until he retired in 2005. From 2005 to 2006 he held a post as a Policy Advisor in the Department of Health, and since October 2006 he has been a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Education at the University of Oxford.



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