Thursday, 29 September 2011

Is parenting really about control?

The day before the new school year started I spent a day with one of our Families Plus workers visiting families in their homes.

Our first stop was to go with a Mam and her 6 year old son to buy a new sweat shirt for school. We walked from their flat across several busy streets and up the hill to school. The lad, let's call him John, was full of energy, excited to be out, he wanted to run and his Mam had to keep warning him to watch out for traffic and be careful crossing the roads. When we got to school he rushed into reception heading for the toilet, the receptionist called out, you can't go through "because of insurance" as if a 6 year odl would know what that meant. He was busting so she let him into school explaining she had to accompany him because if he hurt himself the school would be to blame.

It took a little time to buy and pay for the sweat shirt (from a grant Children North East had obtained), in the meantime John wanted to run into the playground and play on the climbing frame. The receptionist told him he was not allowed "because of health and safety". She explained he might fall, hurt himself and then the school would be to blame. She said it was OK during term time when there were lots of people about but she could not take the risk in the school holiday. John's Mam meekly complied with the school rules too.

We visited two other families that day. In each home I was struck by how anxious the parents were to ensure their children and young people were 'under control' - that they were well behaved and not causing any trouble to anyone. Of course setting and maintaining boundaries is part of good parenting, children need to know right from wrong, but my colleague told me it was quite usual for parents to be constantly fussing as if the mark of a good parent was how well you controlled your children.

John told us the highlight of the whole 6 week holiday was going to a football match (again organised by Children North East) with his Dad - he had never been to a match before and it was really exciting. Apart from a couple of trips swimming with his Mam and one to the cinema he had spent most of the 6 week holiday indoors, safe from the streets and the traffic.

After so long indoors would it really have been so bad for John to run about and climb in an empty school playground? Wouldn't we have enjoyed watching him exploring the world and yes, maybe he might fall over? And even if he did isn't it more likely his Mam would have picked him up and comforted him than sue the school? And wouldn't she have felt better to allow him to do all that too?

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