Telling off the grown-ups

Saturday 20 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Frobisher Auditorium 2

Too often adults seem powerless in the face of young people behaving badly. During last summer’s riots, well-equipped police officers looked on impotently as teenagers looted shops and even confronted the police themselves. Teachers complain they no longer have official support to deal with misbehaviour. Strict teachers stand in dread of malicious complaints of abuse. On the streets, adults avoid reprimanding misbehaving kids for fear of being accused of inappropriate interference. And as MP David Lammy controversially commented, parents are wary of disciplining their own children in a society where smacking is conflated with child abuse. Many a parent has been threatened with a call to ChildLine when trying to get their children to do as they’re told. Children today expect to be negotiated with, convinced and have their opinions taken into account.

It seems we are witnessing a topsy-turvy ‘reverse socialisation’. While adults feel deprived of options to discipline children, kids are all-knowing, rights-bearing, disapproving. It sometimes seems it is the young who feel they are in charge. Whether it is smoking, recycling, healthy eating, using excessive electricity or driving cars, adults often find themselves under a barrage of criticism, and it is our children who are telling us off. ‘Mum, don’t you know fatty foods are bad for me’; ‘Dad, your smoking indoors is killing me.’ And children cannot fail to notice adults are constantly told their own disciplinary methods are problematic. Meanwhile, teachers face school councils and pupil representatives who are given official encouragement to assess the standard of lessons by OFSTED and sit on interview panels for school staff. And with endless political initiatives chastising adults in front of children for their bad habits, from drinking to leaving the lights on, how can children not internalise the message that Mum and Dad are ‘not the boss of me’?

Do we need to reassert the idea that children should respect their elders and adult institutions such as the law, the property of others and school? What incentive is there for children to want to grow up, or for teens to be mature, if all they can expect in return is to be told off like big children?

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Professor Maurice Biriotti
founding trustee, SHM Foundation; CEO, SHM Productions Ltd; publisher, Youth-led investigation into the August riots 2011

Neil Davenport
sociology and politics teacher; writer on culture; former music journalist

Carl Emery
author, Children's Social and Emotional Wellbeing; lecturer, University of Manchester

KAS Quinn
children's writer; lecturer and educationalist; author, The Queen Must Die, first part of a time-travel trilogy

Sally Millard
co-founder, IoI Parents Forum

Produced by
Sally Millard co-founder, IoI Parents Forum
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Learning and Citizenship, including Youth-led investigation into the August riots 2011

In August 2011, rioting broke out in Tottenham, North London, and spread to other parts of the capital and then to several other cities. There has been much debate about the causes and consequences of the riots in the media, in the political arena, and across social networks.

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