Politicians are like children: they just don’t know when to stop

There’s been plenty of commentary on the reasons for the UK riots, but this commentary in The Australian by UK commentator Frank Furedi was particularly good – and a warning to NZ. It’s worth quoting extensively

Cameron’s call to turn around 120,000 troubled families represents an excellent example of what can most accurately be described as a fantasy policy. It is based on the delusion that governments and bureaucracies are capable of solving the intimate family problems. But parenting is not an institution that can be reformed through state intervention. Parenting is a cultural accomplishment that is cultivated through decades of interaction in communities. That is why the billions of pounds spent so far on family intervention has failed to realise their objectives.

Worse still, the intrusion of officialdom may be partly responsible for the inability of many parents to control the behaviour of their children in the first place. For more than three decades policymakers and the child-protection industry have sought to stigmatise and criminalise parents who punish bad behaviour.

Campaigns against smacking put many parents on the defensive about exercising any form of restraint. Ironically, as politicians complain that parents don’t control their children, parents are lectured that discipline is repressive and results in dysfunctional children. The term “discipline” carries connotations of an abuse of power. A well-deserved smack on the wrist is represented as a crime against humanity.

The implicit objective of a no-smacking campaign is to restrain the exercise of parental authority. Their wider agenda seeks to undermine the right of parents to discipline their children at all.

No-smacking advocates believe that parents who withdraw affection as an alternative to smacking may cause even more damage to a child, and that punishments designed to make children feel uncomfortable or undignified are just as emotionally dangerous as the physical kind. The main outcome of their crusade is to undermine the capacity of parents to control their youngsters.

Many parents of children arrested during the riots argued that they were not responsible for the violence. One mum of a 13-year-old Manchester boy who appeared before the court exclaimed that “you can’t say what your child’s doing 24 hours a day, no matter what a good parent you are”. Her statement was the cry for help of a mother who is all too conscious of the fact she lacks the means to contain the misbehaviour of her child.

To put it bluntly, adults have become estranged from the task of taking responsibility for the younger generations. Yet the assumption of adult responsibility is critical for the conduct of community life and for the socialisation of children. Our obsessively protective parenting culture that is responsible for the erosion of intergenerational relationships. Adults feel awkward and even anxious about interacting with other people’s young children. A crying five-year-old is no longer picked up and reassured by a nearby adult. A six-year-old boy who misbehaves will not be reprimanded by grown-up passers-by.

Children will always test the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. And that’s how it should be. However today children’s behaviour is no longer contained and controlled through the response of adults. Childcare has become entirely privatised. The neighbour, the shopkeeper, the child’s friend’s father and in many cases even the aunt no longer have a role in the upbringing of a child.

Today the real damage begins when children are as young as seven or eight. Ironically the breakdown of adult solidarity, which is driven by the paranoid imperative of child-protection policy leads to a situation where young people’s behaviour is uncontained by the intervention of responsible grown-ups. A long time before they become teenagers, children know they face no sanctions from anyone other than their parents. Is it any surprise that a minority of teenagers will come to regard the absence of adult intervention as an invitation to bad behaviour?

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2 comments for “Politicians are like children: they just don’t know when to stop

  1. 21 August 2011 at 12:21 am

    This is pretty much what I was saying when S59 was changed – that parliament is sowing the seeds of the eventual undermining of it’s own authority.

  2. Dave
    21 August 2011 at 12:43 am

    This article is right on the money. The NZ government even took drastic action to prevent us intervening when we found our underage child was a victim of sexual crimes by adult paedophiles. The State then took out gagging orders against our family to prevent the NZ public finding out about their appalling actions.

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