May 01st, 2017
You may have heard that celebrated author and psychologist Steve Biddulph has been in the UK to promote his new book about raising girls: 10 Things Girls Need Most to Grow Up Strong and Free. We look forward to reading it as we admire Biddulph’s previous works. Watch this space for a review soon.
But the launch of this book has been attended with some controversy as Biddulph apparently blamed parents for the mental health epidemic among young people that is sweeping Britain today. It is certainly true that there has been a massive increase in mental health issues amongst our young people in recent years, especially anxiety and depression. In a NHS survey in 2016 girls as young as 12 were found to be self-harming and one in four girls in the age group 16-24 had self-harmed. So there is definitely a problem.
But is it really parents’ fault? And even if there are things parents could be doing differently how useful is it to blame them? In my experience most parents already feel guilty about their parenting. Have a look at our blog from last year about this.
When Biddulph was being interviewed for a piece in the Times by Lorraine Candy (a mother herself) he acknowledged that if I’ve made you feel bad I’ve failed.
He’s right. Making someone feel guilty does not promote change.
In my 18 years of adult education (and six years of working with adolescents in a behavioural change programme) I have learnt a few things about how to encourage people to make changes in their lives. Parenting is a very sensitive subject and suggestions that we might raise our children differently aren’t always well received. Parenting is very personal.
I find parents without exception want to do the best they can for their children. Usually we raise our children according to a set of principles we inherit from our own parents. Even when we’re actively trying to adopt a different approach we often default to what feels instinctive because we’re so used to it! My experience is that when parents understand more about child development and how a child’s maturing brain dictates behaviour and when they get insights into their own child’s temperament they are happy to modify their approach. Parents, like all of us, have open minds and are ready to learn when they don’t feel blamed or judged. When they do feel blamed they become defensive.
Funnily enough the same is true for our children! So when we’re trying to discipline them we need to remember our purpose; to educate. Discipline comes from the Latin root ‘disciplinas’ which means ‘teaching’. If our actions don’t serve to teach then they’re pointless, and sometimes harmful. Kids can’t learn if they’re stressed or feeling bad about themselves. Since young children live very much in the moment they don’t understand that what they’re feeling right now is not a permanent condition. So if your discipline leaves them feeling shame they will be consumed by that feeling and not open to learning.
Steve Biddulph is an evangelist and passionately speaks in forthright terms. In fact he was not directly blaming parents for the poor mental health of our young people. He was saying that circumstances in Britain (cost of housing requiring two parents to work, working culture of very long hours, pressurised exam-focused educational system which begins at a very young age etc ) are not conducive to good mental health. But reassuringly he thinks that just a 5% change in the way parents do things can make a huge difference to their kids. He also said that working parents who have limited time with their children don’t want to sully the time they do have by disciplining their children. This is mistaken (but not surprising) thinking. Biddulph says parents need courage to discipline. But we think what parents need to know is how to discipline in positive ways –you don’t need to be so brave for that and you can be confident that it works to teach kids without humiliation or shaming.
For discipline without shame and many proactive ways to shape children’s behaviour have a look at our book Real Parenting for Real Kids.