Friday, December 02, 2005

Parents, back off - redux.

The problem with paranoid parents

A modern child's life is filled with unnecessary monitoring and mollycoddling from over-protective parents, says writer John O'Farrell, who sets out his opinion in the BBC Two series Backlash.

The physics of parenthood have exploded.

Once the kids were satellites orbiting around the parents; now the centre of the universe is the child.

Mothers feel guilty leaving their children to watch television on their own, so sit down and watch Pingu beside them, wasting valuable time that could be far better spent sitting in the kitchen smoking and doing Su Doku puzzles.

Parents volunteer to go in and read in the classroom, when all they really want to do is spy on the teachers and be with their precious ones during school hours as well.

When I was a child my parents did not surrender their dignity by wallowing around in ball pits.

They went to the pub and left me and my brother on our own fighting in the car.

Sitting in that pub car park taught me important lessons. I learnt what happens when you release the hand-brake on a hill. But of course I also used that time to read. I can still quote the AA Members handbook from 1968.

Lost confidence

Just as you see toddlers being restrained by those ludicrous safety reins, modern parents are wearing invisible reins that hold them back from doing what ought to come naturally.

Manuals are consulted, diet fads are imposed, each scare story in the tabloids has parents changing the regime under which their kids are being brought up.

Parents have lost the confidence to trust themselves or others. Fear has become the dominant emotion - both the fear of something happening and fear of nothing happening to them; the terror that their children might be ordinary.

And so every second of the modern child's life is time-tabled and monitored.

Children are strapped into the back of 4x4s and whisked from this tutor to that, and if there are a few minutes of mucking about in the park, the play is under the constant supervision of the Meercat Mums.

So children are never bored, they never learn how to fill their own time, they never discover things for themselves.

I am in favour of children being bored. In fact I think we need a Boredom Tsar (I suggest my old geography teacher).

Learning responsibility

And although the children are in no danger of falling from the climbing frame (because both parents are underneath with their arms outstretched waiting to catch them) we have no idea what damage is being done inside.

Children are being denied the chance to learn initiative and independence; they are not learning to take responsibility for their own actions.

In 30 years' time the prime minister will be saying: "Mum, can you do this for me?"

We should force ourselves to set our children free. They should walk to school on their own, go to the park with their mates and kick a ball about and climb trees that do not have rubber matting underneath.

The trouble is, we have made children so paranoid that if anyone suggested this to them, the kids would run a mile.

Or rather their parents would drive them.

John O'Farrell presents Backlash: Paranoid Parents, to be shown on BBC Two on Saturday, 3 December, 2005, at 1840 GMT.


Blogger JY said...

fairly straightforward outcome of:

dissolution of tribal structure due to modern emergence of transportation & communication ==> illegitimate signalling and asymmetric interests ==> distribution of fear to incite consumption ==> fear-based parenting ==> the end of childhood ==> the end of parenthood. any questions?

7:14 AM  
Blogger JY said...

ending the "End of Childhood" is one of the infinite crusades. the disease is endemic among valley parents. parental party conversations are always about "my child is 4 but is studying age 6 level reading". parents trade child-advancement suggestions like they are internet stock tips. when other parents ask me about my son i tell them "he's pretty ordinary". normally that stops the conversation in its tracks, but if it doesn't and they ask what my ambitions are for him i answer "enjoy his childhood and possibly grow up to be a surfer or a guitarist". as the conversation circle thins out i continue that the main thing i want him to learn is human decency. i won't tell him the secrets to long-term success until he's 21 so that he doesn't spend the first 20 years thinking that success is the only thing that matters. the few people who are still standing there share their own laments and fears of inadequacies as parents. I exhort them to join me in banning the phrase "playdates" from the english language, since playdates are the reason you step outside into your neighborhood and there are absolutely no kids around in the streets anymore. in other words, until this become a crusade, there is no way anyone, including my own son, who can have a normal childhood anymore.

7:34 AM  

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