Britain has in recent years introduced ASBOs - Anti Social Behaviour Orders, which is a civil procedure in order to reduce threatening or alarming behaviours. From their introduction until June 2005, about 4000 ASBOs have been issued.
The argument for ASBOs is quite simple: Their aim is to be a substitute for the criminal justice system, in cases where it would be economically and practically difficult to impose criminal sentences. Many of the ASBOs issued so far have been against abusive youth - the things that used to be called "pranks" and ignored with a patronising "boys will be boys" have grown out of proportion, and some communities are completely terrorised by certain elements.
An ASBO, then, is a formal warning to stop an activity. If someone was to receive an ASBO against them, say, for throwing empty beer bottles at passers-by, or for racial verbal abuse, the police could arrest them and initiate criminal proceedings. Of course, both these things are criminal offences in the first place, but the idea is that putting the throwing of a beer bottle through the judicial system is a costly, and often fruitless process.
Whilst there are many examples of ASBOs helping local communities, there are as quite a few arguments against them. For one thing, they might be quite dangerous, in that there is no judge or jury present when one is issued. On the other hand, there are no real repercussions either: Nobody in their right mind would argue that it is wrong to tell a rebellious teenager throwing bricks at cars that they need to stop.
On the surface, it all makes sense. On a deeper level, however, the existence of ASBOs is the effect of a decline in parenting: Many of the ASBOs issued are, in fact, instructions to use common sense and show some bloody decency towards one's fellow citizens. Which - as I'm sure we can all agree - should be entirely unnecessary.
The key to it all, is love. The problem with the ASBO kids, for the most part, is that their parents either were absent, or were too busy with other things that they might as well have been. The ASBO is especially prevalent in poorer communities, with children of abusive or abusing parents being among the top in the problem-pyramid.
The catch, then, is that the youth who are most likely to be issued ASBOs, are the very same hoodlums who are least likely to care: Having lived a life of punishment already, the prospect of having to go through the judicial system is not nearly as intimidating as it must have been to the law-abiding citizens who actually passed the new laws. The result of this is that the ASBOs are, in fact, completely meaningless.
Is (lack of) parenting the problem?
Personally, I blame the parents 100%. I am 24 years old, but cannot honestly recall any instance where I was punished by my parents. Oh, sure, I have had my share of "boys will be boys", which resulted in various punishments - anything from being banned from watching TV, curfews, to a stern talking to from my parents.
I believe that all child-raising is based on fear: A child that is afraid of something, will either do their damnest to avoid getting caught, avoid doing anything for which they can get caught, or both. On a personal note, I think I belonged to the latter category: keep my mischief to a minimum, but when I did them, cover up my tracks as well as possible. Failing miserably most of the time, of course, but that's beside the point.
The fear I am speaking about, however, is the key: I was raised with a lot of care, attention, and love. There was never a 24 hour period where my parents didn't tell me that something I did was good, that they loved me, or that I was encouraged in one way or another. My biggest fear, therefore, had nothing at all to do with punishment.
Punishment is something you can receive: If you steal something from a shop and you get caught, you can be fined and go to prison. It is an unwelcome addition to your life that you could do perfectly well without.
The way I was kept in check, was through the love and attention my parents placed on me: Neither my mom nor dad ever raised a hand at me, nor threatened to punish me. Instead, my punishment was the feeling of having let them down and disappoint them, thereby not making myself deserved to their love, praise and encouragement. This fear - which may outwardly seem as a fear of punishment - is, in fact, something far deeper: It is the fear of bereavement - the fear of losing something I already had.
The choice when raising a child, then, is between what sort of fear you wish to instill in them: Do you wish your children to fear punishment, or do you wish them to fear the loss of your love? For me, the latter worked very well indeed. Despite my misdemeanors and faults, overall, I believe I turned out quite well.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that punishment is unlikely to help, and that the threat of punishment (ASBOs, in this case, threatening possible prosecution through the criminal judicial system) is even less likely to do any good. Of course, I don't have a better solution - but if there was any way to hold the parents accountable for the actions of their nuisance children, then it should be done. After all, that is where the problems started