Thursday, February 03, 2005

Parents and the Guardian

There was an article in the Guardian yesterday which epitomises the agonies its readers go through as parents.

What should you do if your child uses bad language? The thought that you might tell them not to seems hardly to occur to the author, Pete May. Instead he reserves his approval for Jan Parker and Jan Stimpson who in their book Raising Happy Children, he reports, suggest having a rule that certain rude words can't be used in the house by either children or adults. At all costs, we must refrain from treating children differently from adults.

You will also find in May's article two other tactics used by those who defend such views.

There is the claim that concern with good manners and the like is middle class - always a pejorative term in the Guardian, which is odd when you consider who reads it:
"It's also a class thing," says Julie Targett. "Swearing is accepted more in upper- and working-class families. But my family is Daily Mail-reading middle-class."
And there is the assumption that the only alternative to a lax approach is something absurdly repressive:
Do any of us want grown-up kids who are terrified to swear in front of us?
I was also struck by May's conclusion:
Maybe all we can do is try to keep swearing out of the house until our children become adolescents - when parents and children will probably swear at each other as much as they effing well like.
Someone should write a history of are concept of adolescence. When did it become accepted that teenagers will be impossible to live with? I suspect it was surprisingly recently. Those who defend this view will do so in terms of raging hormones, yet they are people who would reject biological determinism in every other sphere of life.

I suspect that it has more to do with the abdication of adult authority that we see in May's article. I am reminded of some lines of W. H. Auden (full poem here), which apply equally well to modern parents and children:
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

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