Category — Adolescence
Britons and people across the world have been mesmerised by the riots that took place recently in London and other cities and have been scrabbling for some sort of explanation for what went on, what motivated the rioters and, it seemed to me, searching for someone to blame. I was sorry to see that one of the knee jerk reactions as we try to make sense of this frightening occurrence in our own neighbourhoods was a spate of parent bashing and blaming.
There have been as many theories about the causes of the violence as there were people who took part in it. But there is no one explanation that has convinced me as applying to all who took part. The causes attributed seem to depend on who are identified as the perpetrators. If the rioters were unemployed, uneducated, fatherless, estate-living, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds then commentators have claimed that it is the socio economic climate in which we live currently that has given rise to this spate of violence. But many of the looters were not from this demographic but were middle class, older people in employment. There were teachers, dental nurses and ballerinas who took part. Many of these people were female, educated and in employment. Some of the young were living in stable homes with two caring parents. Many of us will have heard interviews with ‘hoodies’ who claim to have joined in for the fun of it and because they could get away with it.
Whatever the disparate socio economic and ethnic backgrounds of the people taking part in the rioting and looting maybe one thing that unites them is a sense of powerlessness in their lives that compels them to seize control in this way. One youth was quoted as saying “We wanted to show the police we could do what we wanted.” The other uniting feature, as many commentators have mentioned, is the moral vacuum we have witnessed. Whatever the circumstances of their lives, whatever hardships they may be enduring, whatever frustrations or privations, these don’t justify taking the action they did, causing the damage they did, taking the lives they did. So what is missing? Some of the people taking part seemed to just get caught up in the atmosphere of the mob without any predetermined idea of causing violence or stealing. But why did they give way to the thrust of the crowd? Where is the value system that tells a person when to stop and decide not to join the throng? Why wasn’t there an overriding compulsion that made them put the brakes on and think about how their actions impacted on others? How do you get those values? Clearly from one’s up-bringing. Allison Pearson has written in the Telegraph, “Our young people need adults to stop abdicating authority.”
While it is true that we need parents to behave like adults and to be in charge there are wide differences of opinion about what this means. Pearson quoted her neighbour as saying “They need a smacked bottom and to be sent to bed early”. Generally when people say “what that child needs is some discipline” they mean this kind of punitive approach but this is pendulum thinking where we assume that the alternative to this kind of flagrant permissiveness is clamping down hard with punishment. And if we conclude that there are social factors at work here which facilitated the recent lawlessness then we will not be effective in just bringing down sanctions without addressing those social factors.
In any case there is a more effective middle ground involving parents setting and upholding boundaries, taking an interest in and being responsible for their children and being willing to be the parent not the friend. My view is that there is a crisis of parenting when the adults are not in charge, when they don’t know where a 12 year old is, when they have not been able to pass on values about respect for others, when they have not taught compassion and tolerance, when the young people don’t have the communication skills necessary to get what they need without violence, when they don’t have a proper education.
Not all the young people who took part in the violence have been brought up badly. Some of them may have got caught up in the moment and displayed a real lack of judgment in doing so and they need to be shown that there are consequences for that behaviour. Some parents are bravely doing just that. Chelsea Ives, 18 year old and promising athlete, took part in the rioting and was seen on television by her parents who took the courageous step of turning her into the police. And other parents have taken similar steps to teach their children responsibility for their actions.
But where there has been a failure to educate young people in good values and responsibility I think we have to be careful where we lay the blame for that. It is too easy to say what parents should be doing, especially when we’re pointing the finger at another set of parents, not ourselves. We need to take responsibility as a community for what has happened and think holistically about how we can support parents to bring up the next generation better. However difficult I think we need to try to get to the why’s of what happened so we can take effective action rather than just shooting in the dark like tough punishment and bringing in the army. And we need more data before we can analyse accurately what happened. Just as when we’re disciplining our kids at home we need to take time to understand why they did the thing we didn’t want them to do so that we can respond effectively.
The phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ hasn’t had much application in modern Britain but it needs to now. If one good thing comes out of this maybe it will be that in the spirit of the cleaning up that took place after the riots, that sense of taking back control of our communities, we look out for our neighbours more and help each other to bring up good kids. That might be in direct ways by offering to look after a neighbour’s child to give them a break, or being a male ‘uncle’ figure in the life of a fatherless child, or it might be having the courage to tell a teen to take their feet off the seat on the bus. Or maybe our actions will be to lobby government in this time of austerity measures to not make cuts in the vital area of providing parenting support so that parents have the tools to be able to get their kids to school, get them off the streets, give them the values they want to pass on and teach them respect. Nothing will change if we just mutter about the state of moral collapse in our society and point the finger of blame at parents who are not coping.
17/08/2011 1 Comment
It is Valentine’s day and of course our thoughts turn to love – but what if the love we’re pondering is our children’s love …and it’s not ourselves that are the object of their affection but some spotty youth! When our children fall in love what’s the parent’s role, or do we even have one? Have we been totally eclipsed, put out to pasture, past our use-by date? Ok, all clichés to one side, I suppose it depends when your child is smitten with Eros’s arrow. If your ‘child’ is of an age that you think is too young for love, and for fathers of daughters this may be any age up to about 30, then what? When is too young for love and what does love mean at different ages? A 7 year old child may declare themselves to be in love or to have a girlfriend and when questioned this turns out to mean that they are prepared to swap sandwiches at lunchtime . A ten year old may be very keen on a member of the opposite sex and this manifests itself by them calling the object of their affection names and tweaking their hair. By 13 your child may have reached such heights of sophistication that they are now prepared to acknowledge that there is a point to girls/boys and they may really fancy one, but would rather die than admit it to the other. Or you may find that the child who has come over for a ‘playdate’ is making you question what sort of play they had in mind! If you think your child is too young for an exclusive relationship then tell them so without making them wrong or making fun of them and encourage them to be friends with lots of people.
We might think the idea of our children being in love is cute until we see them holding hands or sneaking a kiss and then we decide we need to have some boundaries! Where each parent draws a boundary will depend on their own value system and upbringing and it is worth discussing the rules with them when the other young person is not present. I remember being mortified by my grandfather insisting that my bedroom door had to be kept open when my boyfriend came over. In a household of 7 people there was nowhere else but my room to go for any peace and quiet. Some of the guidelines they may need are about how to behave with integrity and respect towards the opposite sex.
And what if said spotty youth seems totally unsuitable? Just as we can’t choose our children’s friends we certainly can’t choose their boyfriends and girlfriends and we risk alienating them if we try. Assuming we’re talking about a teenager now they are in the process of working out their identity and choosing their friends is an important part of that. You can and should have rules about how they conduct themselves in your house but you can’t dictate who they decide to give their affections to. Trust that the values you’ve been passing on to them since they were small have been taken on board. You may not share their taste and you may question their judgment but a parent’s role at this point is a more backseat one. There is no doubt that the first boyfriend/girlfriend can make a parent question their own relationship with their child. They have moved on to the next phase of their lives –friendships have taken on a different meaning and a parent may feel a bit usurped. It’s important not to take this as a rejection –they still need you.
And what of unrequited love or some other kind of hurt? What do you do when your precious child has been dumped by text message or on facebook? A common phenomenon in these days of social networking. Just as when they were being teased as a small child your first instinct may be to rush in and try to sort things out for them but we need to put the brakes on and work out how to support them more subtly. They need us above all to be there for them, to listen and to comfort. They do not need to be told there are plenty of other fish in the sea and how you didn’t like him anyway or how he could do better than that girl. Try to remember what it feels like to be hurt in love – but don’t tell them about all your experiences –just empathise. They will need to know that they are worthwhile but not by telling them that there’s nothing wrong with them (apart from their taste in girls/boys) and the only way they will believe any words of encouragement from a parent at this point is if those words are completely believable –that means sincere and descriptive.
15/02/2011 No Comments
Anyone read Sue Palmer’s book “Toxic Childhood” and started panicking that all the modern technology is having a hugely harmful effect on our children, not to mention ourselves? I have only just started tweeting; blogging and facebooking and find myself fascinated about this social networking world and realise perhaps how easy it is to become addicted! As adults we hope we are able to exercise some form of self control, but how easy is that for our kids?
Is it little wonder therefore that Sue writes about how the modern world is affecting how our children are growing up?
A general deterioration in children’s learning and behaviour is being reported throughout the world, and Sue Palmer, a leading authority on literacy, looks through all the different reasons for this and shows how they are connected, rather than focussing on or blaming any one particular issue. She suggests there is a fundamental clash between “our technology driven culture and our biological heritage” because children still develop and mature at “human speed” whereas the world around them moves at “electric speed”.
What does this mean for us as parents? It means we need to be really clear about our values and the importance of good nutrition, adequate sleep, plenty of opportunities to play, quality childcare and ensuring good forms of communication. We need a good toolkit of skills to achieve all this!
Can you detoxify your life? Look out for The Parent Practice course on Children’s use of TV, internet and electronic games – Keeping Children Safe and Healthy – click here for more details.
24/07/2010 No Comments