Sue Palmer, author of 21st Century Boys, asks when Exactly Did The UK Have Its Common Sense Bypass? As a friend of mine kindly put it recently, I seem to make a living these days by stating the bleeding obvious.
Should any writer need to remind the British public that:
small babies need lots of one-on-one love and attention
children ought to play out, rather than sitting indoors getting square eyeballs
kids need a good night’s sleep, preferably without a lot of electrical equipment winking at them all night
the next generation learns communication skills through real-life interaction with real-life human beings, not interactive software?
Sadly, it seems they do. International surveys repeatedly find that British educational standards are plummeting, our children are the unhappiest in the developed world, and our teenagers are officially the worst behaved in Europe. So there’s clearly a need to repeat what everyone’s granny used to know instinctively.
I carry on stating the obvious in my book, 21st Century Boys. This is the one with the controversial claims that:
boys and girls are fundamentally different
the two sexes play differently, and boys particularly need active outdoor play, including ‘play-fighting’
boys desperately need real-life male role models throughout their lives, and women can’t fulfil this role because (wait for it…) they aren’t men.
This last point is so breathtakingly obvious it’s heart-breaking. Anyone who’s spent time with children knows how desperate little lads are for men to take an interest in them. This doesn’t mean they don’t relish the care and attention of their mums and other females in their life. But if you’re going to grow up to be a man, you need to learn the ropes from someone who knows what it’s like to have a Y chromosome and a cocktail of male hormones floating around his bloodstream.
From the earliest days, dads play differently from mums – they’re up for more rough and tumble, letting lads indulge their risk-taking instinct and demonstrating how to play-fight safely, without hurting anyone. They provide models of male body-language, conversation and behaviour (including, in these sexually-equal days, the sharing of domestic duties and childcare).
Dads may also be better at maintaining ‘warm-but-firm’ discipline on occasions when mother-love blinds mums to their infants’ faults – as natural risk-takers, boys need the grown-ups in their lives to set firm boundaries for behaviour and to stick to them.
So it’s very worrying that, with more babies now born outside marriage than in (and one in three marriages ending in divorce), for the growing number of boys raised in single-parent families, there’s an 83% chance that parent is his mum.
As boys grow into the teenage years, they need the support and restraining hand of older, wiser men even more. But by this time – with testosterone levels reaching an all-time high – male mentors from outside the immediate family are probably best.
In previous ages, lads were apprenticed to a ‘master’ at fourteen, to learn the skills they’d use to earn an adult living once they reached 21. Now we tend to turn them out onto street corners to be influenced by media ‘heroes’, market forces and their peer group. And as society grows evermore confused about the definition of ‘masculinity’, fewer and fewer grown men feel inclined to spend time with boys anyway. They’d have to be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau, and people might think they were weirdos.
When exactly did the UK have its common sense bypass? How have we forgotten so comprehensively the ancient truths about rearing children that have been know across all times and cultures? Are 21st century adults really so dim that we can’t combine sexual equality with effective child-rearing?
And are there any blokes out there man enough to start help putting it right?