Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Lessons from nature

If you've had a summer of your children constantly demanding food - I'm led to believe the appetite of a teenager can be particularly voracious - then you may or may not like to consider this parenting strategy from the animal kingdom.

Burying beetles occasionally punish young who nag for food by eating those who pester them most, according to Edinburgh University research.
It encourages the larvae to plead more honestly according to how hungry they are and not try to outdo their siblings by pestering their mother for food.
It also helps the mother beetle to maintain a degree of control over how she feeds her squabbling offspring.

Yes, I know it's the wrong kind of beetle.

Dr Clare Andrews, of the University of Edinburgh's school of biological sciences, said: "We already knew that larvae beg more if they have been deprived of food but we had not known whether this is because they are informing their parents how hungry they are or whether they are simply squabbling with each other to get their parents' attention.
"Our study shows that if you're a baby beetle it doesn't pay to pester your mother for food unless you're really hungry.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Too young to be a Dad?

On my holiday I read a very interesting piece from Yvonne Roberts in The Observer magazine. It points out that 'no statistics are kept on the number of "young fathers" – classified as anyone becoming a dad under the age of 24, and often much younger'. There are interesting contributions from Shane Ryan of Working With Men:

Ryan says many of the young men he works with are already marginalised, from ethnic minority groups or less affluent backgrounds; some may have come from families with a history of abuse or mental health issues, or have been in trouble at school. "Once they become dads, too often that pattern of exclusion begins again. They are expected to fail when they have assets and love to offer. Some teenage mothers, support services and grandparents can make it extremely difficult for them to gain a foothold in their children's lives."

There are some really touching contributions from young fathers, and links to other resources. For me, this is the nub of it:

Mark S Kiselica writes in When Boys Become Parents, "For too long our culture has treated boys who become fathers… as detached misfits who are the architects of many of our nation's problems, rather than seeing these youth for who they really are: young men trying to navigate a complex array of difficult life circumstances that place them at a tremendous disadvantage." Investment in high-quality compulsory relationship education in schools and a national holistic service for young parents would benefit children, mums and dads. It would save the taxpayer money in the long run, since absent and neglectful dads also exact a cost, as many of the young fathers interviewed testified about their own childhoods. "They can become the men they want to be," says Shane Ryan.

The issues are also covered in more depth in this article on disadvantaged young fathers-to-be.

Monday, 5 August 2013

'Who lets their eight- to ten-year-old children out alone?'

It's the summer: cue the annual debate about how children should be spending it, and all the nostalgia for long 'Swallows and Amazons' type holidays of unsupervised play. This article in particular caught my eye, from Barbara Ellen in The Guardian.

A report from the Future Foundation says that the average amount for eight- to 10-year-olds playing unsupervised in the summer holidays has fallen from 55 "occasions" in the 1950s and 1960s to 24 now. Cue parental nostalgia for their own unsupervised summer holidays.
I'm amazed by those figures. Who is letting their eight- to 10-year-olds go out alone 24 times during summer? And when would it be convenient to send the social services around?
I had those textbook childhood summers: running around, picking berries, making dens. Think Famous Five, only without the money or the casual racism. All of us went out in the morning and weren't expected back until … well, you just weren't expected back, except when driven home by hunger. Some would call it priceless formative freedom, others outright neglect; it didn't matter because everyone did it.
But that was then and this is now.

That's very much my own recollection of childhood… when we weren't on a family holiday, from an early age I would be out on the estate or further afield and I wasn't expected back in a hurry. Now with my own kids, aged 6 and 9, they tend to be on day trips with my wife or myself (or both), or at the childminders, or at some holiday club or other. They have not yet been out unsupervised.

I know plenty of boys from my nine-year-old's class who do go down the park on their own, and I'm certainly not about to send social services around. But I can't quite put my finger on why I haven't yet afforded my own son that opportunity. I know he must be on the cusp of it, and I know it's not 'increased traffic' or 'stranger danger' that are putting me off.

Maybe if he was pushing for it more himself I would be forced into a decision. But for now he seems more than happy hanging about with us 'old and boring, increasingly superfluous' folks.

Perhaps that's not the point, and that I need to cut the apron strings for his own good. Barbara Ellen concludes:

Whenever people trot out their lists of what children need (security, self-expression, discipline etc), there's never mention of one of the most important – privacy. Basically, there's too much parental ego flying around. Modern parents need to learn that it is not all about them, centre-stage, being great hands-on parents. Sometimes, it is about parents butting out. 

What do you think? At what age and in what circumstances is it best to butt out?