Children need a firm parent before they need a friend

Children need a firm parent before they need a friend - We all know where a "laissez-faire attitude" to parenting leads, writes Michael Deacon.

Frank Field, the Coalition's poverty adviser, wants school pupils to be given classes in parenting. A needless scheme, you may argue, given that most girls today are already seasoned mothers by the age of 13, but for the few with no experience of raising children, I think it sounds a great idea.

The main problem, Mr Field says, is that parents today have no grasp of "tough love". They fail to "set boundaries for [their] children". I once interviewed a psychologist about this subject – Dr Aric Sigman, author of The Spoilt Generation – and he said much the same. "There seems to be a confusion between being a parent and being a friend," he said. "People want to endear themselves to their children. In our liberal age, it's thought to be much better to have a laissez-faire attitude to children doing what they want than to be authoritarian. But this is a highly destructive trend."

I imagine most of us have witnessed examples of what this "laissez-faire attitude" leads to. I'll list a few of mine. Take the children flinging Frisbees around a National Trust garden, too busy decapitating flowers and trampling beds to notice the signs saying it isn't a play area. "Yes," murmured one of their parents fondly, looking on, "it's so good for them to let off steam."

Frank Field wants school pupils to be given classes in parenting

Then there was the mother who politely tried to coax her five-year-old son off his seat and on to her lap because the bus they were travelling on was crowded, and several elderly passengers were having to stand. The boy said no, so that was that.

Tame stuff, of course, next to the boys who broke a window of a woman's house by throwing stones at it. The woman shouted at them and they fled. The next day the police called on her. Not to ask her to describe the vandals, but because the parents had reported her for intimidating their children.

It isn't just parents who are lenient with unruly children, though. One woman I know saw a boy hurling eggs at a neighbour's house, so she went to the police. After looking into it, the officer said he couldn't do anything because the boy "has social deprivation in his background". The woman was puzzled. "He doesn't know his father," explained the officer.


Among the most popular Christmas stocking-fillers these days is the humorous anthology of dim things people say: Dumb Britain, Colemanballs and so on. This year there's one called Universally Challenged: Quiz Contestants Say the Funniest Things. Here's an example from it. Q: "The Ashmolean in Oxford was England's first what?" A: "Indian restaurant."

I enjoy these books but really I'm in no position to laugh at other people's unworldliness. When I was a teenager, I saw a newspaper advert in which a zoo invited the public to adopt an animal. Immediately, I rang up. "Excuse me," I said, "but is it true you want people to adopt your animals?"

"That's right, sir," said the voice at the other end.

"But how on earth," I said indignantly, "can you expect an ordinary, untrained member of the public to raise a baby baboon or armadillo or zebra in their own home?"


Today is my 30th birthday, but I should probably lay off the cake and champagne. Last week I had a health assessment. It revealed that my body is 20 per cent fat. For a man my age and height (6ft), the figure should be 12 per cent, or 18 at most.

Human beings are 70 per cent water. Which means, I suppose, that my body is 90 per cent a mixture of fat and water, plus 10 per cent other, unspecified matter.

I'm basically a supermarket own-brand sausage with eyes. ( )

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