Everyone has a hobby horse and it’s about time I told you mine. It’s not a particularly popular one, I believe, but I am convinced I am not alone.
In fact, it was reading a piece by an American writer who agrees with me that gives me the courage to put it out there. What is this shibboleth I am, nervously, looking to topple? What can it be that makes a fifty-something woman of the world wary about just how she’ll be perceived once she lets this opinion out of the bag? Here goes – I think we’re not doing parenting properly any more.
Not because of working mothers or divorce or the effects of the internet or any of the usual stuff that women regularly go on about. No, I believe it’s because we don’t say no often enough or strongly enough to our children.
'I want now' gets everything. In Judith Warner’s New York Times magazine piece, she claims that in the past few decades our 'inner mechanism of control and restraint (have gone) awry'. She talks about young children 'unable to control their behaviour… teens who after years spent gorging on instant gratification are restless, demanding, easily bored and said to be suffering from a plague of insatiability'.
Peter C Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour at the University of California in Los Angeles, puts this down to living in a culture of excess, 'a treadmill-like existence of compulsive getting and spending'. But they couldn’t do all that if parents didn’t say 'OK, OK – here’s another £20 to blow in Primark or Starbucks or on another game for your Nintendo.' We have the power – but we just don’t want to take the authority and use it.
With a generation of parents who want to be buddies with their children, nobody is prepared to be the heavy who says no, and risk their child not 'loving' them. It’s a mad way of rearing strong, resilient children who will be ready to mature once they’re out of adolescence – and they’re not going to thank you for it, either.