Britain’s strictest headteacher says discipline starts at home. So… Are parents to blame for pupils’ bad behaviour?
By Helena Frith Powell
Should your child behave badly, it’s probably your fault. I write as a mother of two girls who used to dread parents’ evening — it was one protracted and painful apology.
One of the problems is the misguided notion nowadays that we should treat our children like friends; that they are our equals and have as much say in what goes on as we do, sometimes more. But we are not pals, we are their parents, and we owe it to them to act as such.
I totally agree with Barry Smith, otherwise known as Britain’s strictest headmaster, who observes that some parents seem scared of their children.
In these anti-disciplinarian times, where ‘strict’ is synonymous with ‘bad’, parents seem nervous about telling their children what to do; to use that dreaded word ‘no’; or even to teach them basic manners.
A friend of mine no longer wants to meet up with her sister and their combined three children because her nephew is appallingly behaved. Yet her sister always dismisses his feral behaviour as the little darling ‘expressing himself’.
Another friend told me her six-year-old granddaughter had decided not to come away on holiday with them as she wasn’t yet quite ready to travel without her mother.In reality, the buck stops with parents
‘She might come next year,’ my friend told me, as if the girl was leafing through travel catalogues picking her own hotel. ‘She’s going to think about it.’ Why on earth was this decision left to a child?
Children like rules and boundaries. They make them feel safe and give the impression that someone is in charge. We joke about ‘snowflakes’, but when a teacher can’t tell a child how to behave for fear of offending them or affecting their mental health, it’s gone too far. These children are unlikely to grow up into nice or robust adults. They will find the real world one hell of a shock.
Most people, if asked who is responsible for their upbringing, will name their parents. That is why I don’t understand parents who blame everyone but themselves for their children’s behaviour. In reality, the buck stops firmly with them.
In his book 12 Rules For Life, the clinical psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson includes a chapter entitled: ‘Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.’
It’s excellent advice and extremely easy to follow, if you’re brave enough. My girls are now both lovely adults aged 21 and 22, but oh how I wish I’d followed such wise counsel when they were little.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019