No V Yes Parents: Which Type Are You?

Son watching father peel potato
Son watching father peel potato

I was teaching my nine-year-old son to peel and chop vegetables for Sunday lunch when we had a bit of a falling out.

I'd told him to form his left hand into a claw, taking extra care to curl his thumb under his fingers to prevent it being sliced off by my Japanese vegetable knife.

Then I watched as he stuck his tongue out in concentration and set to work, keeping a very beady eye on his digit lest it stray – which it did, several times.

"Thumb, Tom," I said.

'Tom...thumb!" I repeated.

Then finally: "TOM! THUMB! NO".

He must have thought he was a Brothers Grimm character.

But then I saw his bottom lip come out, then tremble, followed by big fat tears springing from his blue eyes and plopping onto his cheeks, and I took the knife from his hand (in case he used it to do me a serious injury, more than anything!).

"What's the matter, son?" I asked. "Why the tears?"

"Because you shouted at me," he replied.

"Better me shouting than you being called Tommy Four Fingers for the rest of your life," I said, trying to chirp him up.

To be fair, he pulled himself together and carried on with the task at hand which resulted in some superb carrot batons and some very neat cauliflower florets.

But his reaction got me thinking: Why did I shout? Was it out of fear or because I'm a domineering control freak? I shout, nag, moan, instruct, bark orders – and say 'No'. A lot.

"No, you can't have another hour on the Xbox."

"No, you can't stay up late on a school night."

"No, you can't have another bag of crisps/ice cream/chocolate biscuit."

"No, you can't have a mobile phone/Facebook/SnapChat."

"No, you can't use the living room as a soft play centre."

"No, you can't have Zombie Death Zone just because your mates do."

And on and no and on!

It's the way I was brought up. It was the way my mum and dad kept me and my three younger brothers in check growing up on a Manchester council estate.

'No' was law: the word of God, in the form of a mother who had three jobs to put food on the table and a father who worked from 6am to 6pm every day.

'No' is the reason why me and my brothers help old ladies with their shopping; why we open doors and say 'After you' regardless of their gender; why we help mums carry their baby buggies up steps; why we say 'please' and 'thank you'.

'No' gave us boundaries, cemented discipline, taught us respect.

'No' also taught us that we weren't better than anyone; that everyone should be treated with respect.

'No' ensured we never, ever, thought the world revolved around us.

'No' instilled a belief that other people's needs and feelings came before our own.

And so, for my entire parenting life, I have believed in the Power of 'No', just as my own parents believed in it.

The only problem is, not every parent feels the same way, follows the same style, believes in the same philosopher. There are parents who believe in 'Yes'.

"Yes, you can choose your own bedtime."

'Yes, you can play computer games until the electricity runs out."

"Yes, you can crayon on the walls."

"Yes, you can run around the pub/café/restaurant as if it's a play centre."

"Yes, you can do whatever you like."

"Because, yes, darling, YOU are the most important person in the world and YOUR self-esteem is THE most important thing in the universe that revolves around YOU."

Which is bewildering for a 'No' Child, who has no sense of self-entitlement and believes that he or she should fit into society and not the other way around.

But there are more and more 'Yes' kids around, products of parents who follow a philosophy - consciously or otherwise - called 'Permissive Parenting' (or 'Yes' parenting, in the vernacular).

It is a style summed up by The Positive Parenting Centre as: "An extremely relaxed approach where parents are generally warm, nurturing and affectionate. However, they are overly accepting of their children's behaviour, good or bad. They feel their children are capable of making their own decisions with little parental guidance.

"Few if any demands, rules or restrictions are placed on children, and parents attempt to avoid arguments at all cost. They often use bribery as a means of controlling their children. Treats, toys, or gifts are provided as a discipline approach."

And the reason why parents adopt this approach?

The site continues: "Some parents themselves, were raised by authoritarian parents that were overly controlling and take extremely opposing measures in raising their own children.

"Some just have an exceptionally laid back attitude and take a haphazard approach to parenting. Structure is not high on their list of importance.

"They feel any form of discipline or laying down rules and restrictions will only upset the apple cart, so why bother, let them do as they please.

"Others feel they want to be more like a friend than a parent and think parental controls and discipline measures will hinder that relationship."

What kind of adults will such 'Yes' children become? Rulers of the universe, my-way-or-the-highway multi-millionaires who thumb their noses (or look down them) at the rest of society? Or?

Well, there is no 'Or' is there? Because that is exactly what they will become, because 'No' parents like me are breeding a generation of children who don't have the tools to stand up to the 'Yes' kids.

I've seen evidence of this first hand. Every now and again, a 'Yes' friend of my 'No' son's comes round for the proverbial playdate. He dominates everything: the telly, the games, the Xbox. When he's had enough of one activity, he drops everything else like a stone and moves on – and my 'No' kids move with him.

The 'Yes' boy has no sense of fear, no sense of being disapproved of, no sense of boundaries, to such an extent that when I've used the 'No' word to him he has looked at me with such a blank stare that I doubt the word has even computed.

"No? What on earth is this word 'No', you speak of?"

He even swears at his mum!

Yet I know he is going to be hugely successful when he grows up. His parents have a few quid, and he has the arrogance of the self-entitled to capitalise on it.

My 'No' children, on the other hand, will be opening his car door and hoping he tosses them a few crumbs from his fat wallet.

So who has it right? The 'No Your Place' Parent or the 'Yes Take It, That's Yours' Mum and Dad? Well, the latter. Obviously. Or is it?

It ain't necessarily so, according to Swedish academic David Eberhard, psychiatrist, father of six and author of How Children Took Power.

He has concluded that permissive parenting is creating a generation of arrogant young adults who lack social empathy, personal resilience and, after a childhood of pampering, are destined to be bitterly disappointed in life.

He said: "Saying 'no' to a child is not the same as beating a child. Parents should act like parents, not best friends."

I hear ya, brother.

"They should prepare their kids for adult life by teaching them how to behave, not treat them like princes or princesses."

Warmng to his theme, he added: "In Sweden, they think that any form of intervention against the child is a sort of molesting.

"The so-called experts think that parents should negotiate, rather than punish. They have misunderstood the concept of parenting. Children are not as fragile as they think."

'Why pick on Sweden?' you ask. Well, Sweden was the first country on the planet to introduce a ban on physical punishment in 1979. After that, the view was taken that hierarchy within families should be jettisoned in favour of treating children like adults.

But Frank Furedi, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent and author of Paranoid Parenting says this has been disastrous for the domestic front.

He said: "What strikes me as the most disturbing feature of Swedish society is the voluntary abdication of adult authority.

"It began with stigmatising the punishment of children and mutated into a fear of disciplining them, which is what parents are supposed to do. The area for concern isn't what happens to them as children, but what happens to them as they grow up."

Well, this is getting all rather deep and heated for this housdad. As with all things in life, everyone has a view and everyone is entitled to it. Which is probably not a perspective the self-entitled offspring of the 'Yes' Parents share.

As far as my own parenting style is concerned, I'll continue to say 'No' until I'm convinced my kids are capable of keeping their thumbs intact. They might need them to thumb their noses at the 'Yes' kids one day!