Today’s Family is Tomorrow’s Society

August 15th 2011

Reflecting on the riots leads me to believe that the complexity of the situation which released such behaviour will need substantial intelligence, pragmatism and creativity to resolve. Like many I was struck by the image of a generation of angry, disillusioned and unpleasant young people who demonstrated quite clearly that they had no regard for adults and authority and cocked a massive snoop at us brazenly letting it be seen that they were neither fearful nor respectful of us adults.

Well, one reason for this is perhaps because we have abdicated our communal responsibility to be parents.  We have long since allowed our liberal selfishness to convince ourselves that decisions we made were good even if they had a negative impact on our children.  We indulged ourselves and did things that hurt children but persuaded us all that it was fine. They would be able to cope if we handled it right and gave them space and stuff. So we bought them everything they wanted and created a childhood consumerism that led to competition, self-indulgence and bullying.

To add insult to injury we then allowed cars to drive over their play space and kept them indoors behind the corrupting influence of television and the isolation of electronic gadgets and we pretended that everything was fine as they figured out how to handle their isolating bubbles of consumerism and abandon.  We ignored our role as community parents. Oh yes, we are all guilty, every time we failed to tackle a child in the street for shouting, for failing to chastise them as they litter, for ignoring bullying in schools or denying it, for using spurious reasons to explain away bad behaviour and failing set boundaries.  We then compounded it by intimidating the very institutions that could have supported us and filled them with equally unhelpful attitudes so eventually internal and external boundaries started to unravel. Of course, as ever the poor were first to feel it but now its a foam filing up every space in our heads, in our homes, in our communities and shown writ large across our TV screens.

With no boundaries, children get confused and cocky and fail to realise that they have to adapt to the adult world.  It’s not that world has to adapt to children on their terms but they have to learn to be part of the world and we failed to teach them that as well, confusing them and failing to help them understand their place in society. Finally, and worse than everything we told children they could be anything they wanted to be.  The world was their oyster just watch the X Factor which makes it all possible. We allowed the idea of instant gratification and success to cloud their reality but children are not stupid they soon saw the insincerity in all this promise of equality.  They recognised that maybe we had  dumbed down the school curriculum to help everyone pass but what was the message to all those who could not pass that? You become a mega failure and then begin to shout out in anger at the lies, become a NEET and act like one. There was no promised land.

As adults we have a lot to answer for and we cannot go into blame mode.  We are all complicit in creating the monster that let rip this week. 


We need to change our tack and provide jobs and apprentices and implement an early intervention approach for the next generation. I was glad to see David Lammy MP comment in the Guardian on Thursday that we need to support parents not just until their children go to school but right up to the adulthood. At last someone is listening and getting the importance of a multigenerational approach. I have long advocated a community approach to running childcare which is underpinned by a multigenerational service.  Let’s hope local authorities reflect this in their future contracts and delivery approach.  We need a proper agreed and focused means to early intervention and accept our responsibilities to be parents not just to our own children but across the community. Like the African proverb we have to remember that it takes a village to rear a child.