Melanie McDonagh (pictured) says there¿s a limit to what parents can do to influence their children in secondary school

Melanie McDonagh (pictured) says there’s a limit to what parents can do to influence their children in secondary school 


By Melanie McDonagh

My goodness, I like the sound of the strictest headteacher in Britain, Barry Smith, who declared that ‘of course’ parents need to do more to ensure their kids behave well, and ‘I don’t think all parents are doing what they should be’.

He’s my kind of disciplinarian. He goes in for obligatory smiles from pupils and says he’s willing to supply sick buckets in class to deter those pretending to be ill so that they can skip lessons.

He’s not right, though, to blame parents for indiscipline. Most of us fail, not because we don’t want to bring up our children nicely, but because there are forces beyond our control.

Yes, I’m talking about the internet. Yes, I’m talking about peer group pressures. And I’m talking about mobile phones.

It’s easy to be a parent when your children are at primary school: you meet their teachers; you know other parents; your children are, bluntly, more willing to do what they’re told.

But at secondary school, it’s another story. Your contact with the school is limited; you don’t drop your children off; you don’t know their friends; and their access to technology is near uncontrollable.

Some people are afraid of their children 

Well, I guess the children of the Google or Facebook entrepreneurs get limited screen time. The rest of us are losing the battle.

The upshot is there’s a limit to what parents can do to influence their children’s behaviour. My 14-year old daughter has her mobile phone as an extension of her arm. I’ve tried to confiscate it, but she always finds a replacement; I try to limit screen time, but she insists she needs it for school, which is unfortunately true.

You can also find subversion forces or sites with a different ethos than mine on this device.

Technology makes it even more difficult. A friend’s nice daughter turned into a monster of introversion and cheek once a well-wisher gave her a smartphone. She became a detached, door-slammer.

Peer pressure can make even the most talented of us feel weak. When my son was young, I forced him into writing thank-you notes to his friends for birthday party gifts. I found them under the bed, as other children might have thought the letters were strange.

I wish you success, Mr Smith. But don’t blame parents for bad behaviour … most of us are on your side.


Helena Frith Powell (pictured) argues there's a misguided notion nowadays that we should treat our children like friends

Helena Frith Powell (pictured) argues there’s a misguided notion nowadays that we should treat our children like friends

By Helena Frith Powell  

Should your child behave badly, it’s probably your fault. I write as a mother of two girls who used to dread parents’ evening — it was one protracted and painful apology.

One of the problems we face is the misguided idea that our children should be treated as friends. That they should be treated the same as us and have as much control over what happens as we do. We are not friends; we are their parents. They owe us a duty to act as such.

I totally agree with Barry Smith, otherwise known as Britain’s strictest headmaster, who observes that some parents seem scared of their children.

In these anti-disciplinarian times, where ‘strict’ is synonymous with ‘bad’, parents seem nervous about telling their children what to do; to use that dreaded word ‘no’; or even to teach them basic manners.

My friend has decided to stop going to see her sister and the three children she has. Her nephew is a terrible person. Yet her sister always dismisses his feral behaviour as the little darling ‘expressing himself’.

Another friend told me her six-year-old granddaughter had decided not to come away on holiday with them as she wasn’t yet quite ready to travel without her mother.

In reality, the parents are responsible for everything. 

‘She might come next year,’ my friend told me, as if the girl was leafing through travel catalogues picking her own hotel. ‘She’s going to think about it.’ Why on earth was this decision left to a child?

Children love boundaries and rules. They make them feel secure and give the impression that someone is in command. We joke about ‘snowflakes’, but when a teacher can’t tell a child how to behave for fear of offending them or affecting their mental health, it’s gone too far. These children are unlikely ever to become strong or happy adults. They will be shocked by the real world.

Most people will name their parents if they are asked about their upbringing. That is why I don’t understand parents who blame everyone but themselves for their children’s behaviour. In reality, the responsibility lies with them.

In his book 12 Rules For Life, the clinical psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson includes a chapter entitled: ‘Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.’

It’s excellent advice and extremely easy to follow, if you’re brave enough. My girls are now both lovely adults aged 21 and 22, but oh how I wish I’d followed such wise counsel when they were little.