Yesterday Sally Whittle wrote a post over on ‘Who’s The Mummy?’ about the keynote speech at the Drinkaware Annual Conference, where Tanya Byron spoke about Daisy Chaining. As Sally says in her post ‘don’t Google it’: it is apparently group sex, popular with alcohol-fuelled teenagers but I don’t want to know the details. All I know is that if this is something that Tanya Byron is seeing in her clinic then something has gone very wrong. However, it is sadly not a surprise from what I have seen and learnt in my working life and as I go about daily life today.
For a moment imagine…
Imagine that you come home every day and go straight to your room to watch the tv or play computer games with violent and sexual content. You don’t talk to anyone.
Imagine you have never eaten at a table and you don’t know how to use a knife and fork because you eat your meals (usually a take-away) in front of the tv with your fingers or a spoon. You don’t talk to anyone.
No-one at home challenges your behaviour, bedtime is whenever you choose to fall asleep in front of the tv. No-one tells you what to do and when to do it. You have nothing to rebel against at home.
You go to school and instead of being taught how to respect yourself, others, your environment and your community and being made to feel part of a positive culture where you are valued, you are drilled and spoonfed information to regurgitate in exams. If your teachers ever try to open a discussion you and your classmates ask ‘will this be on the test?’ as you are not interested in learning to improve your mind and yourself, it is a means to an end.
When you return home with notes from school about poor behaviour and late homework the only comments from your parents are negative ones against the school and ‘bloody teachers’. Your behaviour is not questioned. You have nothing to rebel against at home.
You watch programmes where ‘celebrities’ willingly humiliate themselves in the hope of winning a popularity contest and tricks are played at the expense of others for ‘a bit of fun’. The only ‘real’ people you see on tv have to win a popularity contest to take them out of their dreadful, real lives.
The Internet is full of other children talking about their experiences with the opposite sex, real or imagined you don’t know, and you are regularly sent inappropriate images on the latest social media networks.
If you do go out with friends then the adults that you encounter are indifferent or even afraid of you and your friends and if you ever do something that you shouldn’t no-one in the street challenges your behaviour or tells you how to behave. It seems no-one cares.
So, when this child is in a situation where they are offered alcohol and asked to get involved in something like Daisy Chaining do you think that child has enough self-esteem, strength of character, ability to question and enough emotional support and emotional resilience to potentially lose their ‘friends’ who are the only people who talk to them and say ‘No’?
I completely agree that children need some independence and they need to be able to experience the world in order to develop their own coping mechanisms but I don’t think that some time mucking about on a building site or running through forests would help this fictitious child, who unfortunately represents many of the aspects of modern childhood that I have observed.
So, who is to blame? Sally hit the nail on the head in her post because parents can’t fix everything. I’m afraid I think we are all responsible. The parents of a child who lives a life like, or similar, to this fictitious child’s must certainly take some of the blame but so must the education system that teaches them to do as they are told and not to think, the wider community that is too afraid to challenge and question children and young adults and the media that promotes humiliation, popularity contests and an unhealthy and ‘unreal’ version of reality and does very little to protect our children from porn, bullying and misogyny.
Not all children who end up on a difficult path to adulthood live the life of my fictitious child but because schools, communities and the media make up so much of our children’s lives even if parents pour all their efforts into bringing up level-headed children, those children could still find themselves in very difficult and compromising situations.
We are all involved in the raising of our society’s children but we have forgotten that, the rule now is ‘don’t get involved’. Commentators and professionals like Tanya Byron have a difficult job to get these complex issues to the mass media and simply blaming parents is sure to get some attention. I just hope that the debate about how we raise, care and educate our children continues with thoughtful research and intelligent comment because these problems are no longer something we can change as individual family units. If you are trying to keep your parenting head on straight when all about you are losing theirs it really is an uphill struggle but it is a very good start.
Thank you Sally for sharing your thoughts after hearing Tanya Byron’s speech and keeping the debate going.