Don't Do as I Do
01 December 2003

'Adolescence is the time in our lives when parents become most difficult.' Jack, 15, is one of 500-plus teenagers who gave their views to The Times for four days in October, about what it is like to be young in Britain today.

It is striking that few seem to regard their parents as friends they can confide in. One comments wryly that whenever he's invited to a party, his parents say, 'I hope you're not drinking too much,' as they reach for another bottle of sauvignon blanc. Some express their pain at coming from broken homes.

It all makes sobering, even daunting, reading for someone whose child is rapidly approaching the teenage years.

One thing that parents and their children have in common is that they are both on a learning curve. It requires a fair degree of grace to treat your child as you would have them treat you-with honesty, respect, patience, love and lightness of touch. Yet it is sometimes harder to draw a principled line than to go with the flow. As 14-year-old William from France astutely observes, 'Just remember that all teenagers want independence but it is the parentÕs job to limit the amount you give us.'

It's no use invoking how things were when I was young. 'We were never asked what clothes we wanted to wear when we were your age,' cuts no ice with a generation who are bombarded with TV commercials, fashion-aware magazines and peer pressure. And for, 'I'd never have dared to say that to my parents,' read, 'What did my parents have that I lack?'

It's a challenging thought, but probably true, that children learn far more from watching their parents than from listening to them. I have never forgotten seeing my father go out of his way to apologize to a park attendant to whom he felt he had been rude. I'm sure I would have been less impressed had he explained to me how wrong the park keeper was and how right he was.

If I want to give my child the best that I can, it is not enough to buy them lots of computer games and fashion accessories. I need to have time for them, to apologize when I handle things badly or lose my cool (even over the history homework), and to have a sense of social responsibility. Above all I need to live out the ideals I profess.

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0