Last month I introduced the concept of accountability as opposed to responsibility. I want to explore some of those issues in this article, especially the perception of parenting.When we produce children, we are automatically a mother or a father. We have no choice. Being a mother or a father does not, however, make us a parent.

Being a parent is a choice. It is a responsibility and a duty. People who choose to parent their own children are accepting the accountability that comes by raising a child in a way that we consider is the most appropriate and most effective.

In this instance, it means that we consider our own actions and standards and their influences on our offspring. I do not believe that there are many people in this world who produce children to raise them badly and without hope. Yet in this country, in this civilised part of the world, we have the highest percentage of hopeless young people and children, the most miserable and unhappy teenagers and the most violent streets. This has not happened over night.

It has not happened because we have a poor and ineffectual policy on immigration or guarding our borders. It has not happened because of the influence of American child-rearing methods or television or video games or anything else. It has happened because, somewhere, we all stopped caring.

We all stopped caring.

Britain’s children are the unhappiest in the West, according to a UNICEF study of twenty-one industrialised countries.
Not only do they drink the most, smoke more and have more sex than their peers, they rate their health as the poorest, dislike school more and are among the least satisfied with life. Their relative poverty, the lack of time spent eating meals with their parents and mistrust of classmates mean that Britain languishes at the bottom of the wellbeing league table. As a result, says Jonathan Bradshaw, one of the authors of Report Card 7: an Overview of Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries, Britain is a “picture of neglect”.
The report, which is the first of its kind by the international children’s organisation, was designed to show how countries compare internationally, rather than to explain the differences. But Professor Bradshaw, a leading authority on child poverty, believes that it is also in part a reflection of past failings.

“Between 1979 and 1999, children were relatively neglected in Britain, child poverty rates rose rapidly, those living in workless households soared and the numbers not in education or training also rose,” he said. “Since then, there’s been a big increase in spending on health and childcare, which is making a difference, but we’re having to reverse two decades of neglect.” Times Online February 2007.

We all do it.

Parenting, in my view, is what every adult should offer to every child. It is that instinct that makes us want to protect them and keep them safe from all harm. It is the same impetus that makes us want to find a way to stop the crying especially of a new child. It is the concern we demonstrate when we watch what they eat or how they eat. It is the role modelling we all demonstrate to show every child how to behave within a society that will constantly judge and measure them against the standard.

We must be accountable to and for our children; it is not enough to constantly carp on about blaming the parents or the schools or anyone else but ourselves. If there has been a successive weakening of parenting including appropriate discipline and guidance, we have all failed. When Mary Bell killed Brian Howe and Martin Brown in the 1960s; when John Venables and Robert Thompson murdered Jamie Bulger, the over-riding emotion felt by the majority of adults was guilt. We hadn’t done enough. We could no longer pretend that it was someone else’s responsibility.

A woman who watched Jamie Bulger being dragged along crying by the two boys and even told them to hurry up and take him home has to live with the consequences of her inaction. In a less inhibited, more nosey society, she would have taken the child home herself and probably given his mother a piece of her mind for leaving her child with two obviously young and ill-equipped children. She didn’t.

There will have been times when we could all have done more, stuck our noses into someone else’s business. The child screaming in the supermarket with a mother who is obviously at her wits’ end, could most likely be silenced by a smile and a bit of attention from someone who is not Mum. We can’t do it because we don’t want to be accused of interfering or worse – a child abuser. We tut and walk away, complaining about the way some people raise their children. We are those people. We are the ones who have created such a miserable lawless environment.

So, what can we do?

We can begin to offer praise and reassurance to the people who are trying their best to raise their children despite having had poor examples from their own parents. We can make more effort to reward and not punish. We can ensure that a consequence, when mentioned, is carried through even where the child in question promises to behave or ‘not do that any more’.

Food should be eaten at the table. Children should learn how to chew and swallow so that their speech becomes clearer as a result of them using their mouths properly. Routines which include meal-times, play times, bed times and together times work. Indifferent or casual child-rearing does not. Despite our best intentions, children respond positively to the tedious rituals of knowing what happens next.

If we do that first, then I promise that good things will follow. You never know, we may eventually have a generation of happy teens.

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