If we can’t trust adults

If we can’t trust adults, children will lose out – Political correctness – a barrier to helping kids

February 28th 2008

My daughter is leader of a Brownie pack. Last night they were lucky to meet. At four o’clock the other leader phoned to say that she had suddenly been taken ill. Unless my daughter could find a suitable adult to accompany her, she would have to send the girls home as soon as they arrived.

Last year I learnt that there are as many girls who want to be Guides of Brownies as there are girls already enrolled. All that is required is sufficient adults to run packs of Brownies and companies of Guides. Scout leaders will tell of the same problem, the need for more adult volunteers.

My daughter is a well qualified and highly competent teacher. As a teacher she is left alone with thirty or so children for hours at a time. Why on earth does she need another adult’s presence with half that number of Brownies?

Why do we treat volunteers with so much suspicion?  Are not potential youth leaders innocent until proved guilty? These are people who are willing to give up their time to train and to organise activities for young people, activities which are so important to them as they grow, and to which politicians and others pay lip service,

More than ever, young people growing up need to find adults outside home and school whom they can trust to provide positive and effective help with the daunting business of growing up. When they don’t, we know what is more likely; failure, trouble and misery, for them as well as for everyone else.

And there is much for these adults to counter these days:

· Broken and ineffective homes
· Pressure from other disaffected youngsters
· Advertising which targets children and promotes unsustainable and inappropriate lifestyles
· Media obsession with hedonistic trivia
· Other people presented as objects to be used

Young people have to try out relationships with people from beyond the familiar circles of home and school. To do this they need opportunities to take first steps, to serve an apprenticeship as adults. The more sympathetic, interested and responsible adults they have around them while they are allowed to try out these quasi-adult roles the better. These are the steps that lead to an adulthood that is truly independent and enduring.

A few years ago I truanted from choir practice when the church youth club was short of adult volunteers. Five young teenagers turned up to be cared for by two adults. When I suggested that having two adults with only five children was unnecessary it was made clear to me that one adult could not be left alone with five children. This was the rule under which the club had to operate, even if a weather-beaten former head teacher like me, with a CRB check, was available.

I pointed out that I gave up my time on my terms, not other people’s nonsensical terms, and went off to choir practice.

If we do not trust people we demean them, we belittle them, and they will become resentful and unnecessarily cautious because they will fear correction, albeit it for some bureaucratic oversight. And our children will be the losers because we have failed to engage constructively the energy, talent and good will of adults who could help with the most important task that we have – bringing up our children.

Can you imagine a government treating parents with a similar lack of trust, and making them feel that they were not really up to the job? The prospect of demoralised parents in their droves telling our rulers, in effect, that since they obviously know far more about bringing up children than parents do, parents owe it to their children to hand them over immediately to these know-alls, has its attractions. The thought of Downing Street crammed with the nation’s most unruly children is something that many of us would relish.

Fortunately such a nightmare scenario is impossible for most parents know that they are trusted first and trusted most by their children and they do their best for them. Unlike politicians and other experts, they tend to stand by them, even when things get difficult or worse.

And my daughter’s Brownies? Fortunately, mother was available to chaperone them and, no thanks to the political classes, they enjoyed their pack meeting.

Another even more fortunate girl was in the news this week when a volunteer coastguard ignored a safety rule intended to protect him and managed to save her life only to find himself repudiated by the organisation he was serving; now he is no longer willing to be demeaned in this way and has resigned.

Can we afford to waste commitment such as this?

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