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Are parents responsible for students’ bad behavior?

Melanie McDonagh (pictured) says there's a limit to what parents can do to influence their kids in high school

Melanie McDonagh (pictured) says there’s a limit to what parents can do to influence their kids in high school


Through Melanie McDonagh

My goodness, I love the sound of the strictest headteacher in Britain, Barry Smith, who stated that ‘of course’ parents should do more to make sure their children are well behaved, and ‘I don’t think all parents do what they should do. to be’.

He’s my kind of discipline. He drops in for the obligatory smiles of students and says he is willing to put sick buckets in the classroom to scare off those who pretend to be sick so they can skip classes.

However, he is not right to blame parents for undisciplined behavior. Most of us fail, not because we don’t want to raise our children properly, but because there are forces beyond our control.

Yes, I’m talking about the internet. Yes, I’m talking about peer pressure. And I’m talking about cell phones.

It’s easy to be a parent when your kids are in elementary school: you meet their teachers; you know other parents; your children are, frankly, more willing to do as they are told.

But in high school it’s a different story. Your contact with the school is limited; you do not drop off your children; you don’t know their friends; and their access to technology is almost uncontrollable.

Some people seem afraid of their children

Well, I suppose the children of the Google and Facebook entrepreneurs get limited screen time. It is the rest of us who are fighting a losing battle.

As a result, there is a limit to what parents can do to influence their children’s behavior. My daughter is 14 and her cell phone is practically an extension of her arm. I’ve tried to confiscate it, but she always finds a replacement; I try to limit screen time, but she insists she needs it for school, which is unfortunately true.

And on that device you get deeply disturbing powers of subversion or, at the very least, sites with a different ethos than mine.

Adolescence is never easy, but technology makes it worse. A friend’s nice daughter turned into a monster of introversion and brutality when a benefactor gave her a smartphone. She suddenly turned into a freestanding door knocker.

As for peer pressure, it can undermine even the best of us. When my son was little, I forced him to write thank-you letters to his friends for his birthday presents; I found them under the mattress, because the other kids would have thought thank you letters weird.

Mr Smith, I wish you the best. But don’t blame parents for bad behavior… most of us are on your side.


Helena Frith Powell (pictured) argues that there is a misguided idea these days that we should treat our children as friends

Helena Frith Powell (pictured) argues that there is a misguided idea these days that we should treat our children as friends

Helena Frith Powell (pictured) argues that there is a misguided idea these days that we should treat our children as friends

By Helena Frith Powell

If your child is behaving badly, it is probably your fault. I am writing as a mother of two girls who dreaded parents’ evening – it was a lengthy and painful apology.

One of the problems today is the misguided idea that we should treat our children as friends; that they are our equals and have as much to say about what happens as we do, sometimes more. But we are not friends, we are their parents, and we owe it to them to act as such.

I totally agree with Barry Smith, aka Britain’s strictest headmaster, who notes that some parents seem afraid of their children.

In these anti-disciplinary times, where ‘strict’ is synonymous with ‘bad’, parents seem nervous to tell their children what to do; to use that dreaded word ‘no’; or even to teach them basic manners.

A friend of mine doesn’t want to date her sister and their three children anymore because her cousin is behaving horribly. Yet her sister always dismisses his wild behavior as the little sweetheart who “expresses herself.”

Another friend told me that her six-year-old granddaughter had decided not to go on vacation because she wasn’t quite ready to travel without her mother.

In reality, the money stops with the parents

“Maybe she’ll come next year,” my friend told me, as if the girl was flipping through travel catalogs to pick out her own hotel. “She’s going to think about it.” Why on earth was this decision left to a child?

Children like rules and boundaries. They make them feel safe and give the impression that someone is in charge. We joke about “snowflakes,” but if a teacher can’t tell a child how to behave for fear of offending them or affecting their sanity, it’s going too far. These children are unlikely to grow up to be nice or robust adults. They will experience the real world as a shock.

Most people, when asked who is responsible for their upbringing, will name their parents. That’s why I don’t understand parents who blame everyone but themselves for their children’s behavior. In reality, the buck stops firmly with them.

In his book 12 Rules For Life, clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson includes a chapter entitled, “Don’t Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Hate Them.”

It’s excellent advice and very easy to follow, if you’re brave enough. My girls are now both sweet adults of 21 and 22 years old, but oh, how I wish I had taken such wise advice when they were little.