Let me begin with an apology. I am going to inflict upon you a passage from a Daily Mail article about rioting teenagers, and their gleeful reportage of the opinions of one ‘heartbroken and ashamed’ father:
In another shocking example of middle-class children being involved in the riots, the father of a teenage looter said parents were powerless to punish their children because of the nanny state.
The ‘heartbroken and ashamed’ cameraman, who has helped make BBC and Channel Four documentaries on policing and justice, said that parents cannot discipline their offspring properly for fear of being reported to police or social services.
His 16-year-old daughter appeared at City of Westminster magistrates’ court on Saturday charged with stealing a £500 iPad during rampant violence last Monday.
The father of five said: ‘I am heartbroken and totally ashamed that she got caught up in all this.
‘Basically I feel this is the end product of a society that tells you that you can’t discipline your children.
‘They say, “If you hit me, it’s physical assault and if you shout at me, it’s verbal abuse”.
No comments were allowed, but, up in the middle of the night with a nasty cough-and-cold, I really wanted to say something, so here it is.......
Dear Daily Mail (and heartbroken cameraman) I would like to tell you about my children. I am proud of the way they have grown into courteous, understanding, ethical human beings. I am proud that my daughter, seeing a pregnant woman being badly beaten in the street, intervened at great risk to her own safety, eventually running to a police station for help. I’m proud that she set up a website to help victims of domestic abuse, and works long and unsocial hours looking after people with Learning Disabilities (and has a 1st class honours degree). I’m equally proud of my son, who came across an old man who had fallen in the street and helped him and stayed with him even though it meant that his day was wholly disrupted, for this is what good people do. I’m proud of him for still being here in the face of crippling mental illness and physical problems stemming from a car accident many years ago. I’m proud that he is funny and intelligent and compassionate, and will use his physical strength to help neighbours with lifting and carrying even though it causes him pain. I remember my son crying at the age of about ten, on hearing a news report about a child beaten to death by its parents. I talked with him about his reaction, and hugged him, and loved him for his empathy and concern.
Dear Daily Mail (and heartbroken cameraman), my children didn’t grow up to be the rounded, moral, law-abiding citizens (you’ll love that one, DM) that they are today through discipline. Hitting them and shouting at them didn’t make them the inspirational adults they are today. I’m not trying to pretend that they never did anything wrong, nor am I claiming that I was never cross with them, I’m saying that the defining moments in their upbringing were the conversations we had about ethics, morality, politics and the difference between right and wrong. For many people religious belief underpins these debates but we were not a religious household; we were, however, a moral one. We could empathise with others, human or animal, and my children grew up constantly surrounded by other people’s discarded pets- usually dogs but often rabbits, gerbils or guinea pigs, with the occasional duck or goose. They learned that every creature deserves our respect and compassion, and became vegetarians at a young age.
Crucially, my children were also never acquisitive. They had modest material aspirations, and their grandparents reported that they were a joy to take out as they weren’t constantly asking for treats. In fact, said my mother-in-law, we have to ask them if they would like an ice cream as they never ask us for one.
Yes, today’s children are bombarded with advertisements telling them they need the latest this-and-that or their lives won’t be complete. So are adults. It’s when we choose to believe the marketing hype that we run into trouble. Teach your children why the advertisers tell us these things. Explain it to them- draw back the veil and expose the wizard of oz as he really is, an insignificant figure pulling levers. Teach your children to think for themselves. It’s unfortunate that many parents don’t even know how to do this so schools should teach critical thinking at the core of the curriculum. Parents need to be educated, too, and taught that they shouldn’t give in to the demands of their children, and how to do this calmly and in a positive way. Unfortunately this is exactly the sort of project that the current government see as surplus to requirements, a waste of ‘taxpayers’ money, and a symptom of the nanny state.
I would have expected, however, that an educated person, as this cameraman seems to be, might have understood that parenting is not about hitting and shouting. I suspect that many of the looters and rioters have plenty of that in their lives already. What they don’t seem to have is someone teaching them the difference between right and wrong. The only value judgment involved seems to be “can I get away with it?” and many people, last week, perceived a window of opportunity to do the wrong thing and get away with it. I am not the first to point to the rich and powerful and their looting of the economy but the morality, or lack of it, has the same selfish roots.
In the same article David Cameron is quoted as saying he will tackle 'irresponsibility, selfishness, behaving as if your choices have no consequences, schools without discipline, reward without effort and crime without punishment'.
I’m hoping he’ll start at the top with his own government, MPs, bankers and tax dodgers but I may be wrong. He could even try hitting them and shouting at them, and in this particular instance I don’t think I would object.