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The Lost Skills of Parenting

Historian, author and broadcaster Dominic Sandbrook is also a regular contributor to national newspapers and in a column last week drew attention to a new book by Professor Frank Furedi, of the University of Kent. Professor Furedi’s book, Why Borders Matter, does, as its title suggests, cover the erosion of borders not just between nations but also those between people.

The concept of no borders does have some attractions and has been a beloved part of the EU but one of the most interesting aspects to Professor Furedi’s book are his thoughts on the relationship between parents and their children, a point that is the central part of Dominic Sandbrook’s article.

This is an aspect I raise in my own observation on life in the UK today, Comments of a Common Man. First published three years ago, my book is now in its third edition, having been updated to reflect the changes within the UK in that time. These include enlarging on the point of parental responsibility, and I provide examples of poor parenting. It is a point that, like Professor Furedi and Dominic Sandbrook, I maintain has created a storm that has already began to make its present felt, and will continue to do so for some time to come. It is the storm that has brought about the rise of the ‘millennial’ and ‘snowflake’ generations.

As Sandbrook points out in his newspaper article, millennials – born somewhere between 1981 and 1996, are now in their mid-to-late twenties and thirties, yet still behaving like teenagers. Put another way, they haven’t grown up. More to the point, some of them may even have children of their own. Let’s face it, somebody born in 1981 would, in 2020, arrive at the start of their fourth decade, having turned 39 this year. Despite being able to say, ‘I am 39’ they will in fact, be starting their fortieth year alive after that birthday. Somebody of that age could well have sons and daughters in their mid-teens. Or even older - if their first-born arrived when they were 20, in 2001, they could have bred a snowflake; a 19-year-old. Snowflakes are of course, a slightly different thing in that they are predominantly still in education, either at school or university. However, when either group are criticised (as they often are and with some justification) the same questions arise in my mind; who is responsible for them? Who brought them up? Who educated, or is educating them?

Education and the merits of those doing the educating are another question entirely and has its own place in my book but the ultimate authority on how children are brought up still rests with parents. Yet not all parents – obviously – are ‘bad’ parents. It does of course also depend on what is meant by ‘bad’ parents. There are obvious examples; those who allow their children to run around at all hours, with no set boundaries of behaviour; those who make no effort at communicating with them; who set bad examples by their own behaviour, thus showing the kids that it’s alright to be rude and aggressive – or even to take part in criminal activity.

Yet set the pause button for a moment; according to Dominic Sandbrook many parents today, who are otherwise working, decent people, are also their kid’s best mate. They play the same video games, listen to the same music and even dress the same. Is this valid? Sandbrook may have a point but taken to the opposite extreme, parents should also not be seen as the austere, forbidding and remote Fathers and Mothers of yesteryear. Perhaps the skill is finding the right balance between the two. And therein lies the key. That balance has been lost. Or was it ever there to begin with?

If one assumes that the parents of the millennials and snowflakes are directly responsible for the upbringing, attitudes and behaviour of their children, then who is responsible for them? There is of course an answer, which is their parents – the grandparents of the children. But how far back does one need to go? Needless to say, I have provided ‘an’ answer in my book so to find out, you ought to read it (if you haven’t already). Whether or not it is the right answer is up to you to decide. What is not in doubt however, is that today there is something missing from the way in which children are raised.

In fairness one must also point out that the pressures on today’s young people are very different from those of previous generations. One of them is the absurd cost of putting a roof over one’s head. In days gone by, and without suggesting that the past should be viewed as altogether wonderful, by the time somebody was in their late twenties, most would be married and many would have a mortgage and be in their first own home. Today the cost of buying is beyond reach of increasing numbers of people (of all ages), and this is due solely to the relentless and remorseless greed of estate agents and property developers. That, by itself, is another story but one effect is the ever-growing numbers of younger people still living at home with their parents. They can’t afford to do anything else, even though there has always been some who stay at home. But the numbers now doing so have escalated beyond reason and the net result is the absence of personal and social responsibility shown by some of the young. More and more are growing older never having owned anything.

Another result of this is the huge increase in renting. But even the cost of that is continually driven upwards by the same greed that fuels the cost of buying. One direct consequence is many people move frequently. This means they cannot put down roots anywhere and are driven away from the areas in which they grew up and their children suffer the same, with disrupted schooling and an inability to make friends. But hang on! What about the families of Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force servicemen and women? They have always moved around from place to place, often (at least in the past) from country to country. I myself was a services child, having lived in four countries by the time I was twelve. The difference is that there was a structure in place, a discipline that sustained us, and gave us the surroundings we needed – something that has been absent for a long time in the UK.

So what can be done about it? Or is it too late? The solutions – again as I point out in my book – are in the hands of the citizens of the UK. And that means you. Only you can decide if you want your children to grow up knowing the difference between right and wrong; knowing how and when to say please and thank you; knowing that no single generation is responsible for everything; that all people, regardless of age and background, are worthy of respect. Only you, once you become a parent and if you do, can set the right boundaries for your kids.

The decisions that will shape the future of the UK and its people can be made. But they have to be made and not left to somebody else.

© Kevan James 2020.

Image - Silver Cross UK Ltd

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