Belfast Telegraph

Stop scapegoating parents, you spineless politicos

By Janet Street-Porter

I can't think of any job tougher than being a parent - and I've edited a newspaper, walked the length of Britain, climbed Kilimanjaro and regularly mouth off on live television.

Parents are our unsung heroes, but you'd never guess. Week in and week out they get criticised - told they're not as good as previous generations. Too many young people are obese: it must be mum's fault they stuff their faces with junk food. And why don't parents force their couch-potato teenagers to exercise?

Little girls want to wear make-up and sexy clothes: it must be the parents' fault for letting them watch Rihanna on television.

Kids carrying knives: why doesn't mum strip-search her son every time he heads out of the door and monitor what he's looking at on Facebook? Parents are routinely derided as failing in their responsibilities by politicians and found wanting by social commentators. You might think everything that's wrong with modern Britain can be traced back to one job - lousy parenting.

David Cameron loves making self-important speeches demanding parents take control, impose stricter discipline, dish up healthy food and monitor their children's every spare minute.

Blaming parents costs absolutely nothing and allows policymakers to pass the buck without the nuisance of having to spend money on increasing the number of teachers, or investing in creating places for young people to let off steam.

Now maligned parents are cited as the reason many kids drink to excess. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has carried out the first survey into drinking behaviour among 13- to 16-year-olds.

Guess what? If kids hang out with their pals night after night they are more likely to drink. If kids see mum and dad drunk at home, then they are more likely to drink to excess themselves.

If parents don't know where their children are on a Saturday night, or allow them to watch 18-rated movies unsupervised, then they are more likely to drink. Nothing new.

The implication is that children mimic mum and dad's behaviour. So, if you drink too much in front of the kids, they are more likely to get drunk.

Half of the 16-year-olds surveyed had been drunk. A worrying number of kids do drink too much. But the vast majority drink exactly as I did at their age - except that, back then, you had to go to an off-licence to buy alcohol: an enormous deterrent.

The simple reason why many kids drink today is because drink is everywhere: go for a choc bar and drink is on sale with newspapers and milk. It is still sold below cost in supermarkets.

The real villain in this story is not boozy parenting, but flabby government, still far too chummy with the major alcohol manufacturers. The Government should impose a strict price per unit of alcohol, a move demanded by every important medical body in the UK. And it should insist booze is sold only at specified times in special shops where picture ID is required.

Moaning about the sexualisation of young people is another example of passing the buck. The last government commissioned three reports on this subject and we've just had another, by Reg Bailey of the Mothers' Union.

You can see gays in bed on EastEnders and lesbians snogging in Corrie. What does mum say to a toddler who hasn't gone to bed?

As for Rihanna and the pervy costumes: she was plugging a record and exploiting a lack of control. Why can't Ofcom police the watershed?

Stop telling parents to shape up when our elected leaders and official regulators are completely lacking in moral fibre themselves.

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