Parents Are the Primary Cause of Disturbed and Disturbing Behaviour in Their Children

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‘Parents are the primary cause of disturbed and disturbing behaviour in their children’ this essay will look at evidence for and against this claim. It will start by explaining the meaning of the phrase ‘disturbed and ‘disturbing behaviour’ and then move on to explain the role that parents play in the cause of ‘disturbed’ or ‘disturbing’ behaviour within their children. In the past theorists would have agreed with this phrase, having good evidence to support their theories. Nevertheless this is now considered by many to be a naive view of a child’s development. The essay will look at three different models, the medical model, the social environment model and the transactional model. It will conclude by looking at the role of the child in the process and looking at whether there is conclusive evidence to support this claim.

There is a large minority of children who find certain circumstances difficult to adjust to and because of this; their behaviour is considered by others to be difficult, withdrawn, disturbed or even bizarre. Parents of these children may describe them as being ‘hard to manage’, ‘demanding’, and ‘aggressive’. People who work with these children for example teachers or health care workers could consider them to have ‘behavioural problems’. The expression ‘disturbed’ and ‘disturbing behaviour’ is very unclear, it can have several meanings at one time. One suggestion could be that the child is the victim of incompetent or abusive parenting. Then another suggestion is that the child is the cause of the problem with behaviour that needs to be contained. What is meant by a ‘problem’? ‘Childhood signs of psychological abnormality are, by and large, manifestations of behavioural, cognitive and emotional responses common to all children. Their quality of being dysfunctional lies in their inappropriate intensity, frequency and persistence (Herbert, 1991, p.13). Children are said to present problems when their behaviour falls out of the range of tolerance and age-appropriateness. That range maybe more or less wide depending both on the context and the attitudes of those making such judgments. To put it bluntly, many children are only seen as having problems when they become a problem to others. So, whose problem is it? Where does the problem reside (Chapter, 2, p. 63)? Individuals have different perspectives of the ‘problem’. From the medical view the problem might be described in terms of ‘disorders’ which locates the problem firmly within the child as part of their psychological make-up. The approach to treatment was to prescribe medication or psychotherapy. This model was very prevalent during the 40’s and 50’s which came under much criticism. Emotional and behavioural difficulties were not considered within the medical model. The social environment model was careful not to put labels like ‘disturbed’ on to the child. As the medical model focuses the problem within the child the social environment model sees the problem as being outside the child for example a poor home situation, incompetent or abusive parental care or inadequate discipline at school. Bowlby’s theory of maternal deprivation is a good illustration of this perspective, which was highly influential in the 1950’s in the construction of post-war social policy on the functions of the family and especially the role of women, as mothers, in promoting children’s mental health (Chapter, 2, p. 58).

Referring to children and their behaviour there is a very common phrase used in everyday life ‘I blame it on the parents’. This spanned many generations believing that the explanation for children’s bad or disruptive behaviour lay firmly within the home environment and the quality of parenting. Believing this removed the attention from the child themselves and the role that they might play in their behaviour and it also removed the attention from society and its responsibility for the welfare of the child. Most importantly, this...
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