What is wrong with disciplining children?

Saturday 18 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Frobisher 4-6, Barbican Therapy Culture

Over the past few decades, the idea that education and family life should be ‘child centred’ has been taken up by researchers, campaigners and governments. Schooling, it is suggested, should be driven by what children want to learn. Life in the home should be a negotiation between parents and children on everything from meals to holiday destinations. The welfare of the child is ‘paramount’ – parental responsibilities trump parental rights, which are seen to be potentially in conflict with the interests of the child.

Alongside this notion is the belief that old-fashioned disciplining of children – whether through physical chastisement or simply demanding that kids behave according to the demands of adults – is not simply wrong, but harmful, too. Sweden has been at the forefront of this change, introducing a ban on smacking as long ago as 1978, though such laws have spread across the Western world. Critics argue that these laws, and the child-centred approach more generally, have produced a generation of unruly and undisciplined children who are ill-equipped for independent living.

Two high-profile speakers with strong opinions on the subject of parenting culture will discuss the issue of disciplining children. Swedish psychiatrist David Eberhard believes that his country’s cultural and political shift towards a child-centred society has been harmful for children and adults alike. In an interview for his book, How Children Took Power, Eberhard argued: ‘There’s no scientific evidence whatsoever that an authoritarian upbringing is harmful to kids. You can take command in the family. The family is not a democracy.’

Frank Furedi has been researching and writing about Anglo-American ‘parenting culture’ for 15 years, identifying the problems of weakening adult solidarity and the increasing mistrust in adult-child relationships, the overwhelming view of childhood as a time of life-determining vulnerability, and the tendency to hold parents to account for all manner of social problems. His best-selling book, Paranoid Parenting, first published in 2001, argues that parenting has become a key arena for policymakers, where the vulnerability of children is exaggerated and the abilities and interests of parents are denigrated.

Have we handed over too much power to children? Are we so concerned with children’s vulnerability that we are unable to effectively discipline them? Do we even know what values we need to instil in the next generation? Is effective parenting possible in a culture so wary of drawing a distinction between adults and children? Are parents too busy being friends with their children to show them who is boss?

Dr David Eberhard
head of staff and senior consultant, Prima psychiatry; author, How Children Took Power

Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What's Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history

Dr Jan Macvarish
associate lecturer and researcher, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent; author, Neuroparenting: The Expert Invasion of Family Life

Produced by
Dr Jan Macvarish associate lecturer and researcher, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent; author, Neuroparenting: The Expert Invasion of Family Life
Recommended readings
Unruly children: How did ‘discipline’ become a dirty word?

The term now implies an abuse of power. And punishment of children is frequently represented as a violation of human rights.

Frank Furedi, frankfuredi.com, 25 March 2013

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