Frank Furedi: When politicians try to be parents, families lose out

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The Independent Online

Back in 2001 when I wrote Paranoid Parenting, I did not imagine that the problems it raised would get far worse. During the past seven years child rearing has turned into a veritable obsession for policy-makers.

Problems that were once associated with the failures of society are blamed on parents. The parenting deficit is blamed for problems such as that of low achievements in schools, low self-esteem, drug-taking, obesity, crime and mental health problems. Every proposal appears to be even more reckless than the previous one.

Only a few months ago, David Rogers, a spokesman for the Local Government Association said that "parents who allow their children to eat too much could be as guilty of neglect as those who did not feed their children at all". His big idea was to subject overweight youngsters to child protection procedures. And this week, we discovered that seven overweight children have been taken into care.

Parent-bashing is not confined to the domain of politics. Back in 2001, hectoring parents about their inability to manage the behaviour of their children or to provide their kids with a nutritious diet had not yet turned into a popular genre for entertaining the public. There was no Supernanny or The House of Tiny Tearaways to remind parents of their congenital defects on the child-rearing front. During the past five or six years the belief that parental incompetence is quite normal and widespread has become deeply entrenched. One intelligent 36-year-old mother wrote to me saying "I know it exploits my emotions, I know that I should not watch it – but I do, even though it makes me feel shit".

This perpetual politicization of parenting has two destructive outcomes. Through the constant association of parenting with a problem it undermines the confidence of mothers and fathers. Although politicians target a minority of so-called dysfunctional parents, their depressing message has a disorienting impact on everyone. Consequently the helpful initiatives designed to "support" parents make them more paranoid. The second regrettable outcome of the politicization of parenthood is that it intensifies our anxiety about virtually every dimension of children's experience.

Frank Furedi will debate capitalism tomorrow at The Battle of Ideas in London: