Have been watching the riot situation in the UK from afar. Eldest, who is still in the UK at present, yesterday vouchsafed over Skype that the rioters were “Disgusting.” Fortunately she’s in an area unlikely to be hit by major civil unrest. Although if push came to shove, we’d have her on the next flight / whatever out, either to relatives or friends far from the troubles.
With reference to my recent offering regarding my one time friend and work buddy ‘Dave’, and his grab bag of selfish and self destructive attitudes, I’m inclined to make the following observation; people like ‘Dave’ have one attribute in common. They owe more loyalty to a peer group than family, or the well being of their community. All they care about is their own worthless self gratification. Which is probably why they can’t be ‘reached’ except in extremis. Not that the PC culture currently endemic throughout the UK courts / social services will allow that hard line approach.
If a rioter were a puppy, sometimes the figurative rolled up newspaper or being locked in a dark shed for two hours might be the only way to get their attention. Failing that, if they still go bad / antisocial / feral and harm others, then the sad last walkies down to the vet as a (literal) last gasp. However, people are not dogs. Dogs are usually better behaved and more predictable.
The root cause of the rioting is, as some are waking up to, a lack of parenting and a cultural bias against bettering yourself. Absent / weak fathers, careless / weak mothers and fragmented families. Alienation from a stable peer structure always means the human animal will seek out an alternative. We need to belong. It’s hard wired in (to greater or lesser degrees) as a survival trait. It doesn’t matter what the peer structure is. It can be bullying or abusive, but the peer group structure has to be there, and it has to have status. It may be a perverted form of status, but if the peer group offers nothing else, that is what it must have. The opportunity to be more than the individual alone.
Now I don’t know all the answers. Far from it, but the fact that I’ve played my part in the successful (Stable, well socialised and now with good honours degrees) upbringing of two girls. I reckon that makes me more of an authority on the matter of parenting than any social worker / university professor.
It’s my assertion that you can’t teach parenting tick box style in classes. There are way too many variables. Every child is different. Some are more headstrong / others passive on a sliding scale of zero to infinity. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Every child will need a different approach. But it must be an active approach.
There is one key item. Respect. You can’t get it through beating / berating. That way only gets you the fear of the peer group, which is fragile as blown glass. You can’t get it by purchase, that only buys you contempt. You can’t just get it by simply ‘giving’ respect – that simply makes you look weak and powerless. You have to actively make your respect and approval worth having.
Now with my two stepkids I’m lucky because Mrs S is a strong willed woman with good teaching skills, but even that might not have been enough. She needed a pack alpha (me), a bit of a wild card, to defer to. A family guard dog, someone who cared what the kids got up to, and would turn out at ungodly hours to rescue their sorry asses. Someone who would be available to assist with homework, help celebrate their successes, and treat their failings with justifiable derision. Someone who loved them, but also made the limits clear (Get into trouble with the law and we won’t /can’t help). Someone who picked up their Mum when she fell, and promised the same for them. Someone who was fun enough to play with, but not a complete doormat. Their crusty old Stepdad. Me. Villain, hero, who knows.
In light of the above, there are some who might ask (In patronising tones) “So Bill, are you willing to ‘mentor’ some of these ‘lost’ kids? Willing to share your ‘expertise’ on the front line then?” In a nutshell, no. Being a Stepfather or Father as far as I’m concerned is a high stress occupation. Frankly, I don’t think I could survive another bout, and my ‘turn around the park’ was relatively smooth (For a given value of ‘smooth’). Although I’m steeling myself for step-grandchildren in the medium term. That’s going to be fun.
Have promised my Stepkids that I am going to be the most disreputable Grandfather ever; taking their progeny on motorbike rides, showing putative grandchildren how to hunt, fish, make things go ‘bang’ and generally have old fashioned fun that no drug can ever match.
This is what the rioters are missing. This is what many of them will never have unless they make a conscious decision to wise up and do something positive with their lives. To actively engage with their progeny. No one, not even the most ardent social reformer can do that for them. Only individuals, making a positive choice to make their kid’s lives better than their own were will do that. Sitting on your arse taking dole money or simply ‘getting by’ just won’t cut it. You have to try and share that trying with your kids.
For our own part Mrs S and I have always tried to deliver a message like the following to our charges;
Ineffectual? Middle class? Wet? Really? I’ll say this; it’s way better than the alternative, which from a historical perspective, always ends in tears.
Update: Must have done something right. Eldest just got the exact job she was after. Utterly delighted. Youngest due here on the island (with friends) to start a post degree gap year travelling through Canada in less than three weeks. We parents do have our uses.