Parents have a myopic view of their children

How do you tell a close friend that her 14-year-old daughter is a chain-smoker?
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Listen to this. A survey based on questions put to 277 parents in Plymouth came up with the astonishing fact that 30 per cent of mothers and 50 per cent of fathers are not aware that their children are obese. What else, I wonder, do these myopic parents fail to notice about their kids - that they're wearing war paint or walking on all fours or have a pair of breeding giraffes in their bedroom? Surely when a mother buys her 12-year-old daughter a school uniform skirt that could double as a tarpaulin for an office block, she must suspect that something is amiss.

Listen to this. A survey based on questions put to 277 parents in Plymouth came up with the astonishing fact that 30 per cent of mothers and 50 per cent of fathers are not aware that their children are obese. What else, I wonder, do these myopic parents fail to notice about their kids - that they're wearing war paint or walking on all fours or have a pair of breeding giraffes in their bedroom? Surely when a mother buys her 12-year-old daughter a school uniform skirt that could double as a tarpaulin for an office block, she must suspect that something is amiss.

What the survey didn't make clear was whether 70 per cent of the mothers questioned and 50 per cent of the fathers were perfectly aware that their children were obese, which taken to its logical conclusion means that there's an awful lot of overweight kids in Plymouth. That, however, is another subject for another day. I've never been to Plymouth and know precious little about the place apart from the fact that it has a Ho on which Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls when the Spanish Armada was sighted in the English Channel.

On second thoughts, maybe it isn't that surprising that so many parents know so little about their children. On the whole parents see in their children what they want to see, not what's actually there. As a child I wasn't obese, but I certainly wasn't Twiggy. Tubby would be a more accurate description, but my mother, who was a brilliant dressmaker, insisted on making me the sort of outfits - figure-hugging and crop-topped with horizontal stripes - that only emphasised my bulk. Maybe she hoped they would be an incentive to lose weight. They weren't and I didn't. I'd stick an all-enveloping sloppy joe sweater over the latest ensemble and go round to see my precocious Polish friend Lizzy, ostensibly to do homework but in reality to hitchhike up the A3 to Guildford to spend the afternoon in an exciting new venue called a coffee bar. It was a long time ago.

The question is, do you tell a close friend who is convinced that her 14-year-old daughter has never touched a cigarette in her life and vowed that she never will, that Samantha is, in fact, a chain smoker. No you don't if you wish to continue as a close friend. I was actually in Samantha's room - we were looking for a book - when her mother opened a drawer and found half a packet of Marlboro Lights under some make-up. I said nothing. Samantha, however, when her distraught mother confronted her with the damning evidence, said a great deal. She had found them on the bus she said and was going to give them to her friend Salome to give to her mother who smoked Marlboro Lights but Salome had a cold so she'd had to keep them in her drawer until ... etc etc. It was a magnificent performance, almost as good as her Titania in the school play. "There, you see, I knew there was a perfectly innocent explanation," said her mother.

And what about Sarah down the road, whose pretty, clever, musical, sporty daughter, Rosie, she told me proudly, goes to Windsor every Saturday afternoon to visit old-age pensioners for her Duke of Edinburgh silver award? Isn't the Duke of Edinburgh award about survival and camping in the Scottish Highlands without a tent? I said. Well, yes, it was, said Sarah, but they've introduced a new caring model, according to Rosie. It was lunchtime and Rosie came downstairs looking very demure in her school uniform, satchel over her shoulder, like Red Riding Hood's basket full of good things for the old ladies.

I told my son, who was also 16, about Rosie's philanthropic mission every Saturday and suggested that he, too, might visit OAPs for Prince Philip. Come off it, mum, he said. Rosie wouldn't know a pensioner if one sat in her lap. She goes to Windsor to see the Eton sixth-formers - he knew because he had a friend doing A-levels there. Far from being crammed with good things to eat, Rosie's satchel contained her mufti, mini-skirt, high heels and make-up into which she changed on the train ready for a long haul helping the boys with the practical side of their prep.

Heaven knows how often my kids have pulled the wool over my eyes. Short-sighted as I am, I don't think I'd have missed out on them being obese. Waiting for a bus the other day, I got talking to a woman who was fretting that she wouldn't be home in time to cook for her 12-year-old daughter. But surely she can help herself to a snack, I said. That's the trouble, said the woman. Her daughter weighed 18 stone, which was why she wanted to give her a balanced meal instead of junk food. The trouble was she ate the balanced meal, then moved on to the junk food. Parents can't win.

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