People should require a licence to become parents


meetup group: Gentle Thinkers

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comments: Thor May -;

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This is an initial starter list for discussing the "Parenting" topic. The list makes no special claim to quality, and additions are welcome.




- Thor




Associated Press (January 14, 2014) "Doctor jailed for selling babies in China". Brisbane Times, online @

Bastow, Kim (January 23, 2014) "Dear Minister, no one wants 'relationship vouchers'". Brisbane Times , online @

Belkin, Lisa (January 8, 2009) "Should Parenting Require a License?" New York Times, online @

Bingham, John (January 14, 2014) "Happier relationships for couples without children". Brisbane Times, online @

Branigan, Tania (21 January 2014) " For Chinese women, unmarried motherhood remains the final taboo". The Guardian, online @

China Daily (26 March 2008). "Are you a licensed parent?" China Daily, online @

Daniel (2008) "Parenting Licence". Lazy Ludite Log blog, online @

Dawkins, Richard (April 22, 2013) "Religious indoctrination is child abuse". website, online @ (2013) "Should people be required to obtain a parenting license in order to have a child?" website, online @

Dwyer, James G. (November 5, 2010) "A Constitutional Birthright: The State, Parentage, and the Rights of Newborn Persons". William & Mary Law School; Social Science Research Network, online @

Favole (2010) "Should We Need a License to be a Parent?". Mibba Creative Writing website, online @

Freakonomics (22 August 2011) "Should Being A Parent Require A License?". Freakonomics Website, online @

Harbiger, Matthew (2001) "A License for Parenting?". website, online @

Ireland, Judith (January 23, 2014)"Hey Mr Andrews, let's skip the talkfest. Here's the path to harmonious love..." [the Australian federal minister for Social Services is currently looking for ways to cut pensions, but he is also trialling a scheme which encourages couples to apply for 100,000 vouchers, total value $20 million, as a subsidy for ''marriage and relationship education and counselling, including components of parenting education, conflict resolution and financial management education'']. Brisbane Times, online @

Isenman, Jenny (2 May 2013) "Should Parents Need a License to Procreate?" Huffington Post, online @

Lost Dogs Home (2012) "The Pet Licence". Lost Dogs Home website online @

Maffei, Michelle (September 2013) "The Debate Over Parenting Classes". She Knows Parenting website, online @

McGowan, Dale (2007) Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. published by Amacon, online @

McGowan, Dale (2009) Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief. published by Amacon, online @

Mohler, Albert (April 28, 2005) "Should Parents Be Licensed? An Ominous New Debate". AlbertMohler blog, online @

Moore, Suzanne (16 January 2013) "Having or not having children should not define or divide women". The Guardian, online @

Mumbrella (September 1, 2010) "Gruen challenge: So you think you can be a parent". Gruen Challenge videos, online @

Munkittrick, Kyle (October 14, 2010) "Sir, Could I See Your Breeding License?" Discover website, online @

Nelson, Jessie [director] (2001) I am Sam. "A mentally retarded man fights for custody of his 7-year-old daughter, and in the process teaches his cold-hearted lawyer the value of love and family." Film, reviews online @

Photojum Staff (2013) "Parents Getting It Very Wrong". Photojum Blog (photographic), online @

Rowlands, Letitia (January 29, 2014) "Mums in UAE forced to breastfeed for two years". Brisbane Times, online @

Rufus, Anneli (June 1 2009) "Licensed to Parent?" Psychology Today, online @

Sassall, Yeong (January 28, 2014) "Growing up Asian in a white household". Brisbane Times, online @

Sauders, Matt (2013) "Triple-P" [an international parenting program for individuals, organizations and governments]. Triple-P website, online @

Snyder, Faye (2012) The Manual: The Definitive Book on Parenting and the CausalTheory. Amazon reviews (& purchase) online @

Stephens, Kim (January 24, 2014) "Girlfriend Guide to Life to help with birds and bees".
Brisbane Times, online @


A Parenting Licence ?  - first thoughts from Thor


1. The Need for Parenting Competence


a) Types of Competence (examples only, not exhaustive)

i) developmental knowledge of infants, young children, teenagers and young adults

ii) the psychology of infants, young children, teenagers and young adults

iii) family relationship knowledge and management

iv) guidance and discipline of pre-adults

v) transmission of cultural practices and values

vi) knowledge of nutrition, exercise, personal health, sexuality and self-management

vii) financial management and economic understanding

viii) understanding relationships with juniors, peers, seniors, authority figures, friends, acquaintances, strangers

ix) understanding avenues for following life goals in education, careers and personal development


2. Ways of Advancing Parenting Competence


a) The Core Problem with Licensing

The topic of this debate seems to presume that “a licence for parents” is the best way to advance parenting competence. Initially I took this to be a joke, but upon investigation find that it has been the subject of hundreds of debates and articles, even books. Therefore, as a professional educator, I will state my view on the licence idea at the outset. I believe that it would be the very worst way to advance parenting competence. In a following section I expand the licence idea in more detail. Briefly however, licensing always implies some form of compulsion, and from the point of view of efficient learning  + applied practice to follow, compulsion carries huge negatives in education. We do have a compulsory general education system because that seems like the easiest solution to an overwhelming need. Mass education in its present form is extremely inefficient for many reasons, but largely because the motivational engagement of its captive students overall is low, especially after puberty, and (closely related) their application of taught knowledge after schooling is rather minimal. The compulsory licensing of adults based on their meeting some contentious standard of required parenting knowledge would have all of the handicaps of compulsory child education, but multiplied by the relative independence and likely hostility of adults. In other words, I believe that the compulsory licensing of parenthood would be ineffective amongst those most in need of educating, that it would excite extreme hostility, and that it would be exploited by ideologues of every persuasion for ends entirely unrelated to the purpose of fostering competent parents.


b) Other Ways to Advance Parenting Competence

This is not the debate topic. However, if we agree that there is always a need to improve parenting competence, it is obviously important to find the best ways to do this efficiently and humanely with the largest number of people. For example, my own parents were desperately incompetent on many issues of child raising, but with good intentions managed to be passably effective in others. I probably shouldn’t be here (!), and certainly would have had different life chances with a different set of parents, or differently informed parents.

i) Self-education by Parents

In one way or another very large numbers of parents do set out to educate themselves about the children they are about to have, or are in the process or raising. This desire stimulates a big and profitable section of both print and electronic media. Some of the information is very basic, some is quite advanced. Some is culturally accepted, some is controversial. Some is honestly educational, some is a form of commercial blackmail. Some is more or less reliable, some is mush.

Many TV and other media programs are aimed at educating pre-school children (e.g. Sesame Street) and in the process have a significant impact on educating parents. Far fewer programs set out to educate parents as such, perhaps because it is much harder to influence adults with entrenched attitudes in an entertaining but informative way. Governmental programs/propaganda to influence adults about effective parenting have been tried in some political environments, for example China. My impression is that such attempts have usually excited widespread derision.

ii) The Roles of Doctors, Psychologists, Social Workers, Teachers, Religious Pastors and other Professional Care Givers

The kind of society which we have at present prioritizes and rewards the activities of “productive” workers, meaning those who contribute in some way to the direct success of commercial enterprises. Amongst care givers, it is mostly doctors who earn money and respect on a scale comparable to the commercial sector (mainly, I reason, because the power of life and death is a powerful bargaining tool). As it happens, doctors as a group are not particularly effective in parental education. Many of them are poor communicators.

Nevertheless, care givers of various kinds remain the primary, non-media official avenue through which parents and prospective parents receive guidance on child raising. The effectiveness of such professional care-giver influence varies very widely. It is influenced by money, class, education and opportunity. It is deeply influenced (and always will be) by the individual qualities of both the care givers and their clients. 

iii) Parental Education for Marginalized Members of Society

People can be more or less marginal members of their society for a vast number of reasons.  The may be instinctive outsiders (I am one of those), they may hold sub-cultural beliefs which put them beyond the mainstream, the may be immigrants to the country, they may be suffering the consequences of poverty, and so on.

However, in every society there are very large numbers of people who struggle to cope mentally, emotionally or economically with the expectations of the general community. Those with experience of social work know very well that a high proportion of these individuals will always be problematic. Almost half of the Australian population is functionally illiterate (in common with all “developed” societies), and this immediately throws up immense barriers to participation. Overcoming adult illiteracy is a slow, hard, emotional process which also offers little public recognition for the teachers. Many of these marginal individuals also have very poor personal management skills, and often a drug or alcohol problem. Life has taught them that it is an unfair world, and that the only rewards they are ever likely to enjoy will come from immediate gratification, not rational long term planning. All of these issues can, of course, make them appalling parents and also absolutely resistant to “education” from authority figures. 

Astonishingly, a minority but still significant number of children from such environments do overcome the handicaps of their upbringing and go on to become resilient members of the wider world. People who talk about a “licence for parents” probably have this large underclass in mind, with more than a hint of eugenics at the back of their minds. Surely Hitler taught us that eugenics is never an answer. There are no “final solutions”. What we do know is that to succeed as a larger society, we need to maximize the opportunities for everyone, and find a humane place for those who are less successful. Short term, “rational” economic profit can often run counter to the larger social profit of group survival. Thus teaching successful parenting to those who have been the least successful in life will always be amongst the most difficult challenges, but in the long term offer the wider society the greatest rewards.   


3. Justifying a licence – basic issues

The discussion topic is explicitly about licences, so this needs to be considered in some detail. A proposal for any kind of licence for anything must pass a series of basic tests itself before it can be taken seriously. In the case of a parenting licence we can ask (the list is not exhaustive) :

a) Purpose of the Licence

raising revenue? / controlling population growth? / confining population renewal to certain groups of the population? / requiring competence in something ? / encouraging competence in something ? / a moral agenda? / a health agenda? / an educational agenda / a personal management  agenda? / a domestic management agenda? / a child psychology agenda? / a financial agenda? / a social class agenda? / a racial agenda? / an ideological or religious agenda? / a political control agenda? /

b)  Issuance of the Licence

pre-natal? / post-natal? / universal? / once-off? / both genders? / for the infant  stage only? / failure criteria? / administered by whom? / can be cancelled? / can be appealed? /

c) Viability of the Licence

would any government be able, politically, to introduce this? / would it be enforceable? / would it be invalidated by existing constitutional, case or common law? / in Australia this could not be federally legislated since it does not meet the residual powers test. Therefore, what would be the consequences of variations between state laws on the issue? / those parents most  in need of child raising guidance would, sociologically, by those least likely to comply with the requirements of any licence. Could or should they be “controlled”? / almost half the Australian population is functionally illiterate. How would this part of the population be reached and how would their child raising ability be monitored or improved? / would existing parents require a licence? If they refused to comply, what then? /


4. The historical lessons from authority let loose suggests caution

Formalizing anything always carries a social cost, and only sometimes a social benefit. The word “licence” implies proscription, control, restriction, exclusion. When it comes to human procreation and child raising, the agents of every religion and most ideologies have historically considered it their business to express an opinion and often forcibly intervene. That is, they have done their best to exert all those implications of the word “licence”. It is not irrelevant that those moral agents have overwhelmingly been aging males with certain personality characteristics which many of us might not associate with enlightened understanding of child psychology or children’s needs. Luckily, given the natural rebellion of youth, would-be guardians of “proper” child raising have often failed. However they remain one of the main reasons that we have private denominational schools, and they have potent influence in institutions like Parliament.  Any law, declaration, syllabus or licence introduced by a government for licensing parents would be “interpreted” as some kind of gospel to fit the ends of this interest group or that, just as, for example, the Bible, the Quran and the American Constitution have been twisted in every imaginable direction. In a similar vein, doubts such as this have been a prime reason for the Australian people in the past rejecting proposals for a “Bill of Rights”.

Finally, a quote from my sister, who is a professional social worker: "Suffice to say I think the idea of a license for parents is someone's sense of humor. Either that or they're pretty naive. We can't even administer simple things efficiently, let alone something as full of complexity and politically loaded as parenting. It makes me wild that people are so conceited about their version of child rearing, and their own apparent god given right to overpopulate the Earth."


Postscript - Eugenics and the Concept of "Genetic Decline" - an extra note by Thor


This is a quick follow-up to the actual meetup discussion. It was impossible in a meetup like that to give a fair response to the issue of "genetic decline" which did come up. Many of us have, of course, wondered at the long term consequences of apparently brighter people having fewer children while the supposed dummies breed like rabbits. It is a highly emotive question, but some of the quick "commonsense" reactions, especially amongst politicians ranging from Hitler to the father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yu have been pretty disastrous. Eugenics is a rather taboo topic.

The first issue of course is just what, statistically, is the range of variation in population fertility amongst different social groups, cultural groups, geographically distributed groups and so on. Quick impressionistic answers are easy. Detailed analysis and evaluating its significance is hard.

The second issue is how much part so-called IQ, as it is measured conventionally, plays in the life success and economic success of individuals and social classes. One engaging but contestable attempt at an answer (it raises many queries in my mind) is given by psychologist, James Thomson in his blog post, "The Seven Tribes of Intellect" @

A third issue is that even if Thomson is right in his division of populations, it is not clear how well a) that individuals in these "tribes" correlate with real social and economic classes in different societies, and b) crucially, it is not clear how well IQ, whatever it is, is inherited, and under what conditions.

The heritability of intelligence is an immensely complicated question on many levels. For example, see Wikipedia at
From some of the studies cited by Wikipedia, it seems that for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, environmental influences have a much larger effect on outcomes for final adult IQ than the influence of inherited genes. It seems that for children from privileged backgounds, these effects of environment and inheritance are reversed. However none of these problems are settled.

Finally, for those interested in the sociology of childlessness, this is also complex, and much studied. Wikipedia has a large entry on the "Child-free" phenomenon at


Summary: 21st Gentle Thinkers Debate

- “People should require a licence to become parents.”