Sue Atkins talks to Sue Learner about parenting and discipline, in the wake of the riots that spread destruction through the streets of London and most of the major English cities.
The teenagers involved in the riots clearly thought it was acceptable to loot and vandalise. Do you think bad parenting is partially to blame for the riots?
Bad parenting certainly contributed to it. If children have strong parents with good self-esteem, they are more likely to grow into well-rounded, confident adults. Many of these people rioting were belligerent and angry teenagers, who were out of control.
Should parents discipline their children more, instead of trying to be their friend?
There does seem to have been a shift with parenting, where parents are reluctant to discipline their children and say no. But children don’t want you to be their friend. They feel far more nurtured and taken care of if you act as a parent towards them rather than treating them as a friend with no boundaries. It is very important to put boundaries in place and if you say no, you mean no.
Do you agree with the five-a-day tips for parents to ensure their children become well-rounded citizens?
I am very much in favour of this idea. Of course they would be guidelines, but it would be a gentle reminder that you can do things such as reading for 15 minutes or playing for ten minutes with your child. You need to talk to children, eat with them, play with them.
That was the problem with these kids who were rioting. They are disempowered kids, some of whom can’t even read properly. Some of them were as young as 11 and their parents didn’t even seem to know they were out on the streets rioting. They need love, and love spells time.
These five-a-day tips are a reminder we need to spend time listening to children and praising them. It needs to be done as early as possible so they grow up with a wide vocabulary.
Should we see this as an opportunity to promote support to parents?
The rioting has certainly raised awareness of the issue of parenting. There is still a taboo around asking for help with parenting. I want to make it as natural as going to antenatal classes. I want parents to be more confident in their parenting skills and I would like to see the Government putting more funding into parenting classes – although ironically, it is often the people who really need help who refuse to accept any advice. Good parenting is not about culture or colour. It is about confidence and setting boundaries.