As part of the articles I intend to write on inter-generational care of children and young people, I wish to raise the topic of accountability. I have read with interest about the Respect Agenda promoted by the Home Office to challenge and overcome anti-social behaviour and promote positive and law abiding actions and attitudes.

So far as I can see – and I accept these are still early days – this strategy (or whatever it is to be called by the politicians and ‘experts’ and law-makers) is doomed to fail. It will fail because it implies that respect is what everyone wishes for and expects to have and has the right to. Who says so? The one thing in my opinion which we should all work towards promoting is the acceptance of accountability.

Being an accountable member of the human race

As soon as we are born, we become accountable. This is not the same as being responsible, because that almost suggests that we have been in some way to blame. Accountability is part of the ‘deal’ of being a member of a society. Whether we choose to acknowledge this membership is immaterial.

We are all members of the biggest and most destructive clan on earth. I can debate for hours about the global accountability that we all have on the destruction of our beautiful planet, its trees, animals and indigenous people. We all know what is happening, and if we don’t, then it is usually because we elect not to know, or we live in places where communication and technology have not touched us, or we may even be part of the destructive force of loggers, industrial giants, financiers, the native populations who have had to resort to eating ‘bush meat’ in order to survive and so on. In this article, however I want to discuss accountability at a local and personal level.

Accountability for children’s behaviour

In the past decade in particular, academic authors, behaviourists and psychologists have noted and written about changes in the behaviour of children and young people. It has been defined as being disturbed, deviant, challenging, bizarre and anti-social. It has been linked to additives in diet, lack of parenting, poor discipline in school, technology, changes in society’s rules, the effects of 9/11, and the pressure of more people living in concentrated groups due to inappropriate accommodation brought about by poverty and unemployment. I could have also mentioned the increased numbers of immigrants – legal and illegal who now share this island with us. I will acknowledge the relevance of all of these aspects in providing a potential cause for problems. The real problem remains: we all need to hold ourselves accountable.

Parents need to be accountable for their children and their children’s behaviour. They cannot point the finger anywhere else. Sound roots make for strong trees. Teachers need to be accountable for teaching in a way that children will want to learn and not be too quick to exclude or blame their pupils for their inability to learn where conditions and environment make it virtually impossible. Police forces need to be accountable for the manner in which the law is maintained. Individual officers do not have the right to a bad day or a lack of consistency in their behaviour, whatever the provocation.

New rulings are in the main punitive and doomed to fail. Politicians including the Prime Minister and the House of Lords need to be accountable, as do advisors and other bureaucrats who make policies and introduce new ‘improved’ strategies and legislation which all may be intended to support a change but which in actual fact punish and prevent real change from happening.

Until we all acknowledge our own role within this society which we have influenced, nothing will change despite the millions of pounds thrown into a chasm created by all of us who refuse to take responsibility or who walk away and defend those actions by claiming it ‘has nothing to do with me.’

Children learn in part by imitating the behaviour and attitudes of those whom they look up to. If you are a parent, whether you like it or not, whether you elected to become a parent or not, you have become a leader in your child’s eyes. There are chat shows where young mothers bring on a series of men to have them tested to see who the father of their children is. The only message this sends to everyone – but especially the children in question – is that it would appear to be acceptable to humiliate grown-ups in a public arena for sensationalism. It is acceptable for a man to call a woman a whore and claim that she was promiscuous in order to avoid accountability for his own actions and subsequent resultant responsibilities.

Structure and boundaries

I am not necessarily a proponent for religion, but I know that a religion offers routine and standards. It offers a focus and ownership of roles and beliefs within it. It provides a community with a chance to come together and belong. It lays down clear boundaries and consequences. Religion by itself is a positive expression of faith and belief in something other than self; religion in the hands of power mongers and bullies is dangerous.

If a child is given no guidance or boundaries, as I have mentioned in previous articles ( archives) they will look for leadership from those to whom they can relate. Peer groups or gangs will take over where parenting is apathetic or non-existent.

No one said that being a parent was easy, yet in our country we appear to have thousands of very young people racing to produce a baby. Why? Is it as a result of ineffectual sex education? I don’t think so. I really feel it has something to do with what is actually lacking – a sense of belonging. If you feel you don’t belong, you create your own community. The first step to this is to produce your own population. You need to feel loved, you produce your own child in the mistaken belief or hope that this individual will look up to you and care about you no matter what.

Planning communities

It is not this generation of parents that have let children down. It is something that has been happening for years. We could look at how housing and town planning took very little heed of the wishes and needs of the communities who would have to live in the new towns.

We see recently that Corby is experiencing problems. We know that Peterborough, for example, has gone through its fair share of difficulties. These are places where the soul of the communities was removed. It takes many generations to bring it back. How can you call a place a community when elderly individuals are exploited, beaten, ridiculed and too frightened to go out of their homes for fear of violence or where parents, especially those from black or Asian backgrounds, are terrified for their children every time they go out to be with their friends?

It has become acceptable in some areas of the country for theft and vandalism to be a normal behaviour. It would be considered much more peculiar if the members of these pockets of humanity became law-abiding and developed consciences. These can only continue where nothing is consistently and persistently done to reduce the frequency or show that threats of retaliation cannot be allowed to be effective. If we do nothing, then nothing will change, but nothing remains the same. In this instance, there would probably be an escalation in the violence.

To be accountable, means we have something to lose if we don’t make a stand. I fear we will all lose the freedom that we claim so self-righteously to be ours – freedom of speech, freedom to work, freedom to feel safe in our home, freedom to make choices for our children’s futures. We must continue to complain; we must continue to insist on better and higher standards of behaviour in our children and in other people’s children.

What children deserve

Every child deserves the best start we can offer. This means regularity, bed times, meal times, leisure times, quiet times. It involves setting boundaries about behaviour. It involves being unpopular from time to time. How much more preferable that is compared to the terror of not knowing where your child is and who they are associating with.

My daughter was discussing the apparent rise in street violence and murders with colleagues. Each one of them said that they could so easily have gone off the rails and ended up on the lawless side. The thing that stopped all of them were the warnings by their parents before they left home, the curfew times when they had to be home or else, and the fear of what might happen to them if they were to disobey the rules of the home.

All of them confessed to testing the waters, but each one also sheepishly admitted that they only misbehaved to the extent that it made them feel rebellious rather than actually create problems. They laughed about the strict boundaries imposed by their parents. They all accepted that their style of parenting grew from these role models and that they are probably even stricter on some levels than their parents because they remember the trouble that awaits naïve youngsters.

Learning to take risks

Life isn’t easy for children and young people. There are many hurdles to overcome and challenges to face. During their earliest years, we should be offering them the opportunity to practise decision-making skills, allowing them to face potential dangers in a reasonably safe and caring environment.

Accident prevention and health and safety have gone too far. At the weekend, my family visited a wild life sanctuary that we hadn’t been to for a number of years. I always enjoyed visiting this place because it was possible to feed the fish by hand if you bent down to the water’s edge. I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with the huge koi carp. I paid for the fish food and made my way to the large pond only to find that it was more or less closed off from the public. The only thing we could do was throw the food over the barriers where geese and ducks competed with the fish. I assume the sanctuary were obliged to do this in order to gain their insurance certificate and permission to be allowed to charge the public a small fortune for the privilege of watching animals from a distance. Instead of allowing parents and children to be accountable for their own safety, this challenge has been removed. What a swizz!

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