Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Kids are All Right...

... It’s the parents I blame.

At least once a week, one of the red top papers carries a story about some kid in some school who’s had draconian measures taken against him for some minor infringement or other of some ridiculous school policy.

The story is generally illustrated with a  photo of the kid and his hair cut or colour, the shoes  or skirt she was wearing or, in this case, the sweets she smuggled into a hotel room.

The whole thing stinks.

When did a bit of discipline suddenly become such a bad thing?

When did teachers stop being able to rely on parents for a bit of support?

It’s one thing having one cheeky, charming teen bending the rules, especially when it’s your own; it’s something else trying to impose some sort of order on 30 self-important oiks who think the World owes them.

I don’t care how arbitrary a rule seems to an individual, the point of rules is to impose boundaries and to ensure good discipline. If the rule is that kids don’t dye their hair or take sweets on a school trip then kids dying their hair or taking sweets on school trips are breaking the rules and they should be punished.

When kids sign up to the rules and when they know what the punishment is going to be for breaking the rules, and when the parents also know what their children have signed up to, the school is even more within its rights to impose whatever sanctions it sees fit.

Last week someone posted this story on FaceBook:
Holli McCann, sent home from a school holiday
A case of bad school or bad parent?

This child signed an agreement not to break the rules of her school holiday, including not eating sweets in the hotel rooms. She smuggled in sweets for herself and her three room mates, and consumed those sweets in the hotel room, knowing that the penalty would be that she would be sent home.

First of all, it isn’t up to the school to take kids on holiday, for crying out loud! This wasn’t an educational excursion, this was a jolly! Teachers were giving up their free time, time that they could be spending with their own families, to take other people’s kids away for fun. I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t send my kids away on those sorts of trips, either.

I’m one of those parents who actually wants to spend my free time with my kids, who actually wants to have the pleasure of my kids’ company on holidays. Having said that, if I did send my child on holiday with its school, and my child signed the good behaviour agreement, I’d expect it to stick to the rules.

If my child broke the rules, as the child in the newspaper article did, not only would she be sent home, she would get a damned good dressing down from me, too, for letting me down and for letting herself down. She’d get a damned good dressing down for failing to keep a promise, for breaking her bond, and for lying and cheating. 

I certainly wouldn’t be charmed by her behaviour or defend her actions. I wouldn’t attack the school, and I absolutely would not take the story to the newspapers.

Why isn’t this parent ashamed of her child, and why isn’t she ashamed of herself for raising a child who is dishonest?

Why is this parent too stupid to see that putting her child in the newspaper gives that child a horrible reputation going into secondary school in September? I’m sure her primary school is very happy to see the back of her, and I’m sure that her new school is dreading her turning up for the new school year. How can that be good for this child?

This might all sound old-fashioned to you, but this parent has taught this child that she doesn’t need to keep a promise, that signing her name to a document means nothing. It doesn’t bode well for the future does it? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard parents say, ‘Kids will be kids’, but what happens when this parent has got a recalcitrant fifteen year old on her hands? What happens when this kid needs help, because she’s on a downward spiral into sex and drugs, or booze and shop lifting, or whatever it happens to be, and this parent can’t impose any discipline on her, for the good and simple reason that she never has?

There’s a way to be a person, and there’s a way to teach a child to be a person, and this isn’t it.

These news stories are bad enough, and, let’s face it, none of this is really news, is it? But what’s worse is the fact that, after it was posted on FaceBook, this story got more than a dozen people agreeing with the basic tenet that the school was heavy handed. I was a lone voice in the wilderness, as I so often am. The school was not heavy handed, it was implementing its policies, policies that parents and children had signed up to. The rest was foolishness and it was bad and indulgent parenting that will come back to haunt them. 

It’s my guess that when this kid gets into real trouble the red top that ran this story won’t be revisiting her and the sorry state that she gets into, because nobody wants to be proven wrong. We reap what we sow, though, and that’s as true of parenting as it is of anything else. This kid’s school might have made a difference in her life, if only her parent had worked in partnership with it, as she should have done, as no doubt, she signed up to do.

I’m glad that my kids are grown up and I don’t have this to go through now, because I did have rules and routines, and I did expect my kids to do as they were told, and I expected any child coming into my home to do as he or she was told, and I still do. What’s more, I still have kids that visited my home over the past twenty years coming back to visit now, happy to see me. I still have kids speak to me in the street that visited my home when they were friends of my kids over the past two decades, and they still show me as much respect now as they did then.

I didn’t have to be anyone’s friend, because I was somebody’s mother. That didn't stop my kids having midnight feasts at home, giggling under the bedclothes with batman torches, but, then, they hadn't signed a good behaviour bond not to... And it didn't stop me doing a bit of finger wagging when I found the sweet wrappers in the morning, either.


  1. Far from unpopular, I think I love you a little bit.

    I'm sure "kids were being kids" because it's in a child's nature to test their boundaries and, when they do, it's a parent's job to exact the precise consequences promised, to remain consistent and teach them some damn respect.

    "It's only a Kit-Kat," "It's only a Freddo." Frankly, if a hotel guest's child dropped a Freddo and it melted into the carpet, I'd damn well expect their parents to pay for the cleaning, and I'm sure this was what was in the teachers' minds when the bond was written up.

    Hope they remain proud of the little cow they're raising.

  2. OK, I can't resist one example.

    My "nephew" broke an ornament at school and a bill was sent home for it. His mum's response?

    "Why should I pay for it? It's only a crappy £2.99 thing from Lidl, and it's a school! They shouldn't have ornaments anyway!"

  3. My main thought was 'good on the school for enforcing the rules they'd set'.

  4. Missed the story but as usual I find myself in total agreement with you Ma'am. This is precisely the kind of issue that contributes to the mess we find ourselves in at times with kids. They're so used to being told that things aren't their fault and that someone else is to blame that they literally believe it. Then when those kids have kids...well, you can see the downward spiral...

  5. "SUCK IT UP!"

    This is my constant refrain when Connor comes home from school after another bit of drama with a member of the teaching establishment. Connor is intelligent, opinionated and stubborn. I like, admire and encourage these traits but sometimes they do not serve him well at school. Just because he CAN argue his point when he perceives he has been wronged by The Man does not mean that he should.

    "SUCK IT UP!"

    "CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES!" This is my second piece of advice. A school rule, no matter how apparently petty, arbitrary or unfair, is still a rule. At school, The Man makes the rules. Don't argue with The Man. If The Man IS being unfair then the correct response is "Yes Sir/Miss." In this situation, the less Connor says, the happier I am. A teacher's perception of you is, rightly or wrongly, incredibly important and can actively help or hinder your chance of a decent education. I always tell him that if he is actually being treated unfairly then I will be on my way to see the Head Teacher the very next day. In the meantime....

    "SUCK IT UP"

    And don't forget....


  6. imho (i.e. rant alert. RUN! RUNAWAYY!), the idea of signing an agreement to say you won't break the rules (and thus the agreement) seems a little "fucked" to me.

    "I hereby promise not to break the rules, and to be sure, let me also promise not to break that promise." kinda like asking someone if they're telling the truth, isn't it?

    I for one wouldn't send my kid on anything that required me to sign a piece of paper stating that something that might happen won't happen. the idea itself is ridiculous, and sounds like synchronised denial. given that it might happen, I'd say it MIGHT HAPPEN and no wishful thinking or signing a statement that says it that it won't, when it might, is going to change the probability either way.

    I couldn't count the amount of things I've been told not to do that I went and did anyway because I thought I knew better. I was a kid, from the moment we start thinking for ourselves we're expected to do just that AND obey all the rules as if somehow these two things are one and the same. uh, hell no!?

    I'd argue that parents are there to help us when we fuck up as much as they are to try and prevent us from fucking up in the first place, BUT! (and it's a big one) fucking up is what being a kid is all about.

    sure, there are plenty of lessons you shouldn't learn, and I can understand the need to prevent these from occurring, I don't think that "behaviour" is something that can be signed away, or should be in the case of children.

    imagine trying to get your kids to sign a "good childhood bond" that said they had to do everything right or be shot dead. you think they aren't gonna do something wrong? you can almost guarantee it.

    now I'm not saying there's no point in trying to get kids to do shit, quite the reverse, I'm just saying recognise it for what it is:

    most of the time when you lay out these "rules" what you are in fact doing is providing a narrative of the future. you're essentially saying "X is what will happen, if you do Y". this chaining of consequence to action is a very simplistic form of conditioning, but simplistic forms of conditioning can be terribly effective, just look at domestic animals. by all means say "don't do X or Y will happen" but then every parent can count on their hands the amount of times that their child did anyway, because they couldn't appreciate the consequence until they'd experienced it, and in some cases, more than once.

    it's worth remembering that unlike us, kids don't have this pre-existing memory file of experiences to remind them why ... because they spend their early life building that very memory file. if anything the important part of the rules is the part where it's clear their behaviour, their choices determine how things proceed, and thus the responsibility is on them. you start waving that away, you wave away any consequences with it.

    so by all means, write rules, punish wrongs, but more importantly, teach the relationship between actions and consequences, that taking responsibility moulds the behaviour. remember that moulding behaviour is the purpose of the rules in the first place, not just obedience for obedience sake, which unfortunately history has shown us, isn't about awareness or learning as much as it is about ... *drumroll please* meeting expectations.

  7. I won't argue that the girl in question didn't deserve her punishment, but I will argue that a great many rules imposed on us as schoolchildren, customers, and citizens are wrongheaded and arbitrary. All too often these rules are a result of one bad apple ruining something for the rest of us, have disproportionate consequences, and are enforced by biased "authorities." I am going to have a lot of trouble with my future child's schools because I will teach him/her to recognize injustice and try to take civil action. I will teach him/her that rules are to be followed, no matter how stupid, but one doesn't have to just say "Oh well, that's the system," and take it lying down.

  8. I should add that this is in the aid of bringing common sense and fairness back to our daily lives, not seeking special treatment or letting kids get away with murder.

    1. schools & parents are tasked with preparing children for life in the big bad world. As you say consequences are often disproportionate, unfair, biased in their application, etc. I prefer to see boundaries teaching not just obedience, but how to disobey selectively, discreetly & intelligently!