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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Practical Parenting

Interesting debate raging about parenting on the blogs of Andrew Collins and Clair Woodward, both triggered by media depictions of apparent trends in modern parenting.
My offspring are mainly in their twenties now and I know that if I had to start again tomorrow I wouldn't be any the wiser. Most parents try to impose behavioural standards and pass on values but it's really, really hard and there's never any sign that you're getting anywhere. (My Dad taught me to drive and I would pretend to be ignoring everything he said. Forty years later I can remember every word.)
The wisest thing I ever read about parenting was by the late, lamented Martyn Harris in New Society. He said something like "having a child is like possessing something more completely than you can ever possess anything and then losing it more utterly than you can ever lose anything. Nagging is the index of loss."
So parents today nag because there's nothing else they can do. My parents used to nag but there was always the chance that the nagging would reach a climax at which point a sanction would be applied, sometimes physically. (And no, I don't resent it.) The balance of power has changed since then. A friend of mine realised this when at the age of 14 he was having an animated argument with his father, rose from his chair to emphasise a point and noticed his old man was cowering, saying "don't hit me!" The challenge of modern parenting is that when push comes to shove you have no shove. And I don't know many experienced parents who could go on TV and keep a straight face while they passed on to others their advice on how to go about it.
In fact, if we're in the market for a swift, at-a-stroke radical improvement in the behaviour, health, politeness and educational standards of our young people, can I venture to suggest that it starts with doing something with the box in the corner as opposed to watching it?
When mine were younger I used to regularly take the plug off the TV. Friends used to react as if I'd turned into Wackford Squeers. It was the only weapon I had.