Being a parent isn't child's play

Discipline coach Jim Roberson believes in giving children what they need, not what they want –and thinks rap music and Ross Kemp are both bad influences

If there's something Jim Roberson cannot stand more than parents who want to give their children the world on a plate, it's Tim Westwood... and possibly Ross Kemp. The towering former American football player who grew up in a housing tenement in the Bronx doesn't mince his words. He calls himself the "discipline coach" and he is on a mission to motivate young people to learn rap; that's respect, accountability and preparation.

He works with schools, youth projects, young offenders and police forces to give children of all ages and abilities – from troubled teenagers in care to primary school children in the leafy Home Counties – the focus to become self-disciplined. And that discipline starts with parents.

"I hear so many mums and dads say 'I want to give my kids everything I didn't have when I was growing up', but that is one of the worst attitudes you can have as a parent. You need to keep it real. You need to teach children the value of working towards something. If your mother buys you an iPhone, an iPad and an Xbox and you've done jack shit to earn it, you aren't going to want to work for things in the future.

"You don't grasp the value of working towards something. Parenting is about giving children what they need, not what they want. And sometimes they need a kick in the ass. Parenting is lovely job, but it's an unappreciated job."

And as for Tim and Ross? Roberson believes hip-hop language and the glorification of gang culture has much to answer for. "Rap music bothers me, I don't think anything is hurting society more than that," he frowns. "Kids can't conduct themselves like that, calling their mothers bitches and hos. I am appalled by it. It encourages disrespect and bad behaviour. If you don't show other people respect you get no respect in return."

In Roberson's view, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and DJ Westwood are all culpable, as is "that dude from EastEnders". "Not many people knew much about gangs, but Kemp brought them into your living rooms," he explains.

When it comes to instilling discipline, Roberson is something of a expert. His services are in demand. He is unconventional and outspoken but is not the boot-camp disciplinarian his demeanour suggests.

He cares deeply about equipping young people with the right attitude to succeed. In his view, discipline is not something that should be done to children; it is something they should be taught to do for themselves.

In the Roberson household having self-discipline is as important as brushing your teeth. "They've got to learn to learn to stand on their own two feet and be independent," he says. "In this country especially, as kids leave school early so they need to learn self-reliance early."

He has three daughters and a son. His two older daughters, aged 29 and 25, are based in the US. One lives in New York and works as a teacher, the other is studying at university there, as is his 20-year-old son. His 17-year-old daughter still lives at the family home in Fareham, Hampshire. And they all know the house rules.

"If my daughter asks for us to all go out for a meal I say sure, but the phone stays at home. If you do things as a family you communicate with each other, not with a handheld device," he says.

He refuses to have a dishwasher. The family takes turns to do the washing up. All technology goes off at 8pm and the children have to find something productive to do before bedtime. They are not given choices for dinner, they eat what they are given and they are made aware that their bedrooms are not their own.

"Why should they have a choice? They don't pay the bills," he says. "I tell them 'it isn't your room, I loan it to you, I let you live there, so don't close the door'." Appearance is important, too. He once reprimanded his son in a busy high street for following the fashion for low-slung jeans that reveal the wearer's underpants.

"I also confiscated his Wii when he didn't revise, to get him used to a life where he wouldn't be able to afford nice things," recalls Roberson. "You haven't got to be their friend. As a parent you have a job to do." The attitude works. Roberson's son is a grade-A student. "And he always wears a belt," he laughs.

Roberson grew up in a black neighbourhood and was offered the chance to transfer to a prep school because of his athletic ability. He was the only black student there and won a scholarship to Rhode Island University where he studied economics but pursued his real love: sport.

He played American football and when his career ended through injury, came to the UK, where he taught PE and citizenship and developed a reputation for being able to improve behaviour. In 2001 he set up his own educational services company, Youth Minded.

He's taken underprivileged children on trips to New York, where they've been encouraged to help homeless people, and he's run work awareness programmes for teenagers from households in which most adults are unemployed and living on benefits.

His first book, The Discipline Coach, gives parents and teachers the impetus to instil self-discipline in children. He wants to inspire good behaviour and motivate learning.

It's a worthy endeavour given the current classroom landscape. Last year the Coalition published the Education and Children's Bill.

The language used to herald the legislation sounded more like a declaration of war. A behaviour tsar was appointed and the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, vowed that the bill would "put heads and teachers back in control" and allow them to take a "zero tolerance" approach.

However, Naomi Richards, an author and life coach for children, who works with children with emotional and behaviour issues, explains that more understanding is needed in schools.

"Predominantly the children I work with feel misunderstood. Some children are just over-excitable but get labelled as troublemakers. Children are different and teachers should understand the different personality traits in a class. When it comes to discipline, one size doesn't fit all."

Most experts agree that discipline is not something that should be delegated to schools and should be instilled at a young age by parents. Otherwise children will have no idea how they are expected to behave once they get to school.

The behavioural psychologist Stephanie Davies advocates a simple reward-system approach for youngsters. "They should get tokens, such as smiley faces, for good behaviour and doing chores and work towards a goal; five smiley faces gets some pocket money. It is important that they understand the boundaries and know what constitutes good behaviour. When they are poorly behaved they need to understand what they have done wrong," she says.

Roberson agrees. "I'm not saying I am a better parent than anyone else, I just explain how I go about things and how I bring up my children. It works for me," he says.

'The Discipline Coach' (£16.99, Crown House Publishing) will be available on from 27 September

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