Why I'm fearful for tomorrow's society

From a lecture given by Lynda Warrington, the President of the Girls' Schools Association, to its annual conference, held in Newport
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The Independent Online

There is much debate at the moment about the moral and spiritual welfare of children in schools, and it is right that we should be concerned. In my darker moments I fear for tomorrow's society. There seems to be too much taking and not enough giving. We are encouraged to blame someone else for everything that goes wrong.

There is much debate at the moment about the moral and spiritual welfare of children in schools, and it is right that we should be concerned. In my darker moments I fear for tomorrow's society. There seems to be too much taking and not enough giving. We are encouraged to blame someone else for everything that goes wrong.

The compensation culture of America is slowly but surely becoming an accepted part of our own culture. Advertisements on television aimed at people who have had accidents and persuading them to sue for compensation have somehow tipped the balance. Of course, compensation should be paid if there is truly blame, but how many cases can be justified?

The call today for more rights bothers me. Very rarely do I hear the word responsibilities, and to my mind there cannot be one without the other. I was brought up to believe that rights have to be earned, and I firmly believe it. Providing guidance and thus setting principles for tomorrow's wider society is what we are all about. It is a tremendous responsibility and one we cannot afford to shirk. We cannot hold our hands up in horror and ignore what is happening.

I can't be the only one to be horrified that it has become the norm for 14 and 15-year-olds to spend their free time drinking in pubs, obviously aided by landlords. And for girls, drinking often means spirits, disguised as "alcopops" to make them seem less harmful. Under-age sex is considered acceptable by many, as is experimentation with drugs. It is easier to let it happen than to say "no". And one of the problems in schools is that we are often considered out of touch if we try to promote moral standards.

It is, of course, a shared responsibility. Shared with parents, and with other agencies, But it is a huge task to challenge and change the existing culture, and for many it is enough to just try to contain the problem.

But we live in a topsy-turvy world, because after so many years of this protection parents believe that suddenly their children are grown up. Young teenagers feel the need to break out and, of course, everybody else's parents let their children do absolutely anything. The media plays its part, of course. The television schedules seem to have little time for anything other than soaps or docusoaps, and everywhere we see teenage relationships in which the main topics of conversation revolve around alcohol, drugs and sex. Teen magazines avidly read by 12 and 13-year-old girls encourage them to believe that they are indeed young adults.

The internet has opened up a whole new world to youngsters. Chat lines allow fantasy relationships to develop, aided by the anonymity of the situation. But there are real dangers here for young girls when older, predatory men can pose as youths and form friendships which can lead to perilous situations. As in so many spheres, there are inherent dangers when the virtual world and the real world become confused.

Parents are forced into a position where they think that if they say no their children will rebel. Surely, they say, it is better for their children to be happy. Some parents do not want to risk a confrontation and so they let them do almost anything, believing that they are sensible and they will know what is right and what is wrong.

They are too frightened to say "no" in case it makes them unpopular; and so they often take the easy path and leave it to schools to instil discipline. Parents have the responsibility to give their children guidelines for behaviour and not to encourage them in unnecessary challenges to authority.

I am not suggesting any infringement of human rights, nor any unwarranted punishment. I am saying that without self-discipline, and without a sense of responsibility the future of society is indeed bleak. And, of course, being responsible is not the same as being a killjoy. As adults, we learn to enjoy responsibilities and freedoms and we must treasure them.

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