LOUISE ROBERTS
LOUISE ROBERTS

Time for parents to grow a backbone

HOW do kids exercise self-discipline and personal responsibility if it is never taught but then demanded of them?

At some point, we seems we adopted the knee jerk approach to social cohesion and parenting in this country by insisting a ban is the solution to anything too arduous or time consuming to tackle.

So kids getting fat because they're choosing a packet of sugar-laced snacks instead of an apple? We'd better ban junk food at school.

Teens with a newly-minted driver's license driving too fast? Best install an electronic stalking device in their car to check their speed.

And while you're at it, install a tracking device via your smartphone so you can see where they are at all times even if they aren't driving. It's a foolproof concept - kids are always glued to their phones after all.

That way they will be okay, in reality a false safety net when common sense is lacking.

Labels on soft drinks, a trigger warning on a Peter Rabbit movie this year because it includes a sub plot about food allergies or an ethos that having a best friend as a child must be actively discouraged because it is "inherently exclusionary".

These are the hurdles lurking before the modern parent.

No matter that kids are naturally inclusive and less judgmental than us adults. What will be self-righteous mob rally for next week - a ban on free thinking?

And if kids do look up from their screens, they'll see adults so tangled up in a politically correct web that using the phrase white to describe just about anything can trigger a lynch mob.

Life is becoming all about control minus the actual personal responsibility, the one thing our kids desperately need us to teach them.

Kids refusing to eat? Surely there’s an app for that.
Kids refusing to eat? Surely there’s an app for that.

Raising children to achieve great levels of success seems a hollow objective if they can't hold themselves accountable for their actions.

But the ban it all solution was back on the agenda this week when a Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg urged us to veto mobile phones in Aussie primary schools.

Dr Sahlberg said prohibiting the devices for juniors and teaching self-discipline for secondary students was crucial to stopping the havoc phones, in particular, wreak on classroom behaviour and learning.

High schools should "act quickly' to plug the damage, he said.

"Smartphones don't belong in primary schools or young children under 12. For the sake of fairness and equity, (banning them in early years) would be the best thing to do," he said in an interview.

But we are fuelling a generation that doesn't know how to be held accountable so surely banning them for kids under 12 teaches them nothing.

Kids by nature are impulsive creatures and they need to learn the skills to manage that. This helps them to become responsible for their actions, respectful of consequences and aware of the impact of their behaviour on others. It helps them distinguish between good choices and bad choices.

And it's our job as parents to model personal responsibility - not schools.

We live in a world of acute instant gratification. We wait for nothing unless we really have to and if we can't 'have it now' we don't want it.

Choosing the right course of behaviour by thinking things through is becoming the taboo of our time.

How sad is it that we are losing that thrill of anticipation, the challenge of patience.

Why do we want to deny our children these important facets of being a well-rounded human? I think it is because we are afraid they won't like us any more if we say no.

Recently at a local swimming pool, I saw a mum pull out five different costumes and ask her daughter, stood there with her five-year-old arms crossed, which one she wanted to wear.

The hot pink one made it into the warm water and the mum, exhausted by the burden that she had created of negotiating too much choice, sat heavily on the steel seats and absorbed herself in an iPad.

Kids by nature are impulsive creatures and they need to learn the skills to manage that. (Pic: iStock)
Kids by nature are impulsive creatures and they need to learn the skills to manage that. (Pic: iStock)

The same routine followed after the swim - tracksuit pants or PJs, the blue ones or the Disney ones? And so on.

For this child, the question is whether she ever learn to be happy with what she has got. That contentment and acceptance leads directly to taking responsibility for your own thoughts and actions.

Not only is it exhausting for the parent, as they run rings around their little darlings but they are setting up themselves and their children for a lifetime of misery.

While this ritual - which is far more common than it should be - might give you a giggle, it becomes a power struggle that is anything but funny.

Like all humans, children love power and they learn pretty quickly how to wield it. Crying, refusing to eat certain foods, refusing to go to bed are all normal exertions of it.

It is how the parent chooses to respond that matters. Will they foster a little human who can accept they don't get to make all the decisions because mum and dad is boss, at least for now; or will they find the power struggle too adorable, too funny or just too hard to exert their authority?

Millennials are routinely rubbished for their 'me, me, me' mindset but whether it is accurate or not, our children will struggle to operate outside this mindset unless we drive home the importance of individual, personal responsibility.

They crave boundaries and direction because it helps them to know where they stand in their little world.

Some parents are so determined to keep the peace, that they will do anything.

Your children will not thank you for it when they reach adolescence and someone offers them drugs and they don't want them but they haven't learned the power of no plus the power of staying true to that two letter word.

Would the experts that would have us ban phones from schools also advocate a device to prevent kids swallowing any illegal or toxic substance when they are away from home?

Would they advocate the microchipping of newborns so that parents and carers can always know how and where they are?

And should we lock fridges and pantries so children can't be tempted by unhealthy food?

Instead, teach those children to check in with their parents and carers, praise them when they do so and enforce consequences when they don't.

We can't expect perfection from our children, they will stuff up and stumble and make mistakes, wilfully or otherwise, but it is not the mistake that matters as much as the response from a parent, and the demand for accountability



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