Unfashionable though it is, we need to face some home truths; to love your offspring is to equip them to aspire to a better life than you have and this requires parents to have the moral courage to instil 'character'.
What has been most shocking and utterly unique to the riots of the past few days is the role played by young people. We have witnessed our youth running amok, not in school playgrounds and parks, but in our cities, invoking violence and throwing the innocence of youth back in our faces.
Out-numbered and out-maneuvered, Tim Godwin, Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, was reduced to calling for parents to contact their children and get them off the streets. Many middle class parents throughout the country nodded emphatically in agreement. But any hope that law enforcement could work alongside parents to be a restraining influence on the young proved fundamentally misguided.
These were young people hell bent on destruction of property and indulging a dangerous sense of entitlement. The police were reacting to an unprecedented crisis and the parents had clearly lost control.
One wonders if the parents' were ever in control. Or given the world in which we live - where we are reluctant to make judgements about what counts as good and bad behaviour, right and wrong - the behaviour we saw on our streets is what we have to accept. No it isn't and shouldn't be if parents get the building blocks right. After all it is in the home that 'character' is forged. There is some truth to the Jesuit maxim which says 'show me the child at seven and I will give you the man'. Today, 'character' is rarely used in public discourse. If you are a football fan, you will hear the word bandied around by team managers to praise the player who showed character by getting in some crunching tackles during a game. Occasionally, the word is also used when we are assessing a politician's suitability for particularly high office. But Character, the sense of right and wrong, discipline and the aspiration it fosters is still relevant and to being a well-functioning member of society.
And if those youth who blighted our streets had an under-developed or warped sense of right and wrong, then any discussion of these riots, as I argued on the Today programme should start with parental responsibility. Parenting cannot be outsourced to the state. Character development has to start in the family, although the state can and should support it.
When a friend contacted me requesting the use of a State imposed curfew to curb the riots I personally wondered what parents were doing to impose their own curfews, surely one of the most universal parental punishment tools?
I have also wondered what conversations parents were having, when their 14 year old returned home at 2am, clutching four pairs of Adidas trainers, a 42 inch plasma television and reeking of adrenaline? Whilst I'm sure it was outright condemnation in the majority of cases, I suspect that at times there was indifference and at worse complicit like behaviour. How many parents frogmarched their young ones to join the clean-up operation to face up to the mess they had helped create.
In time as we examine the deeper causes behind these events there will be many explanations from across the political spectrum. Some will see the cause of the failure as a result of the perverse incentives of the welfare state. Others will claim that economic distress leads to moral failure. As ever, the story will be a lot more complex than our pre-existing political positions allow for. There will also be those who seek to play politics with the problem as Ken Livingstone did earlier this week blaming the government's deficit reduction strategy. But it is hard to argue that the eleven year old arrested during the riots had been economically and politically radicalised by the cuts. In truth if money was the answer then we would have solved these deep-seated social problems by now.
Order will be restored and when it is it will be time to reflect more fully on what has happened. I admit there are no easy answers. But an important step forward would be a cultural shift to accept that right and wrong has a crucial place in child rearing. However the family unit is constructed, a hierarchical structure in the home, with clear boundaries and standards, and where children know their place and have respect for authority is essential. Government should empower parents and teachers in particular to make this possible.
The out of touch plea issued by the politicians and police, for parents to control their children, demonstrates how deep rooted this problem is for society. Unfashionable though it is, we need to face some home truths; to love your offspring is to equip them to aspire to a better life than you have and this requires parents to have the moral courage to instil character.
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