Stopping abusive behaviour at parent-teacher meetings

I am writing about a serious topic that deserves attention: The abusive behaviour of some parents at parent-teacher conferences.

Such anti-social behaviour encompasses screaming, using abusive language and vulgarities that would have subject their own children to serious disciplining in a school environment.

Alongside verbal bullying, such parents frequently engage in table pounding, violent door slamming and similar gestures that imply threats of physical abuse.

Sadly, parents of children with behavioural problems, bad grades or poor social skills are the ones most likely to exhibit such hostile behaviour. In many cases, the abusive language and physical gestures are used by fathers to female teaching staff.

Aside from feeling degraded and professionally disrespected, teachers fear the legal and professional implications of telling parents obvious facts: That parents, not teachers, are responsible for disciplining and raising their children. And, that their children's misbehaviour and academic shortcomings could be connected to the parents' own inability to control their emotions or socially relate in a civilised, respectful manner.

Without any witnesses to such parental outbursts, teachers fear for their jobs lest the truth about such parents' poor behaviour be turned into complaints by the same parents.

Moreover, because the parents can deny their own behaviour's role in the poor performance of their children, it is unlikely that such students will recover socially or academically.

To help children raised by socially hostile parents and to protect teachers from such abusive parental behaviour, the Ministry of Education should immediately install cameras at all parent-teacher conferences. All such cases should then be reported to - and further investigated by - social service agencies.

This way, teachers can confidently report the truth about underperforming children, and be protected from legal issues when faced with parents who perform so poorly themselves.

Eric J. Brooks

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'Stopping abusive behaviour at parent-teacher meetings'. Print Edition | Subscribe