In January this year, art lovers became enraged when a nine year old girl, named Sissi Belle, climbed onto a £6 million sculpture at the Tate Modern, watched on by her parents. Sissi was photographed lying on the sculpture by a tourist who posted the image on Twitter, branding the couple “Horrible parents with horrible kids.” Surprisingly, we were inclined to agree, after all, who would allow their child to climb onto prized artwork in a gallery? The couple in question were the fashion designers behind the All Saints brand. Their response to the furore: “She was being anti-establishment.” But isn’t this simply bad parenting? Is it just us, or are there more naughty children out there than ever before? We investigated this fashionable, ‘new style’ of parenting and found that, well, it isn’t such a new phenomenon after all.
This style of parenting is known as ‘laissez-fair’ and is taken from the French term meaning ‘let it be’. These parents teach their children that they are accepted and everything is OK no matter how they behave. Which is in stark contrast to the parenting style in fashion a few years ago, when all we heard about was helicopter parents who micro-managed every second of their child’s life, paying for private tutors and booking them into extracurricular activities, controlling their every waking moment and trying to mould them into the best in class. Several news stories surfaced both in the UK and in the US, of parents suing their child’s school because they didn’t get the grades they had hoped for. But now things seem to have gone to the other extreme, with parents simply turning a blind eye to what their little ones are doing, particularly within public spaces.
Let me prefix this by saying I don’t mind kids. Some are quite cute. I don’t however, belong to the group that coos over every passing kid and thinks all babies are beautiful. But this isn’t about the kids, it’s about the parents, and their lack of interest in how their child is affecting those around them.
But back to this new breed of laissez-fair parents; I remember when pubs and nice restaurants were for adults to enjoy adult company. When did this change? Sunday at my local now seems more like a crèche than a pub, where I am weaving between buggies and babies crawling on the floor whilst their parents look on and smile, seemingly oblivious to my not being able to pass. Nice restaurants where there are no high-chairs are now increasingly taken over by children running around tables, getting into the wait staffs way, without the parents even seeming to notice. Just this weekend whilst eating in a cool little tapas bar, a couple lazily enjoyed their meal without a care in the world, whilst their 2 year old sat on the floor in the middle of the restaurant, with wait staff tiptoed around her whilst balancing hot plates of food. She then began to rearrange the empty seats bringing them into the way of passing diners and staff, all while being ignored by her parents.
Whilst I don’t begrudge people bringing their children into these adult spaces, I do wish they would control them more and teach them how to behave.
Laissez-fair parenting is largely due to parents having low expectations for self-control and maturity, so they rarely discipline their children. It’s also possibly down to the fact that they don’t want to upset little Gemima and so let her be to keep the peace. They are lenient and allow a considerable amount of self-regulation to avoid confrontation. But does this style of parenting become neglectful, indulgent and damaging to the child?
When I was growing up in the 80’s it was an adult world and children lived (and behaved) in it. It now seems that children rule the roost and parents simply don’t have the fight in them to control their behaviour. All children should be taught how to behave, and screaming tantrums, shouting, throwing things, kicking, and generally disturbing the peace in public spaces where people are trying to coexist, needs to be addressed. Instead these indulgent parents that I see every day when I step outside of my front door simply choose to ignore their little darlings. No doubt a technique they learnt from the Supernanny. This is fine within the confines of your own home, but why are these parents not more mindful of the people around them that wish to travel, eat, drink and shop in peace?
Of course these children are being harmless, but it is none the less annoying. I once had to endure a screaming baby the entire way through an Isabella Blow fashion exhibition at Somerset House. The parents did nothing to appease their child, and didn’t even think to take their baby outside until it had calmed down. Instead we had to experience the exhibition with the soundtrack of their screaming baby.
Have parents learnt to simply block their children out? The evidence seems to indicate so. Boy, do I wish I could do the same.
But on a more serious note, this style of parenting can have consequences. Dr John Gottman, a professor in psychology known for his study of parenting styles, warns that this type of parenting fails to help children understand how to manage their emotions. He claims that children raised with this ‘anything goes’ approach grow up without a strong sense of self-discipline. They can find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new skills and may be more unruly in school due to the lack of boundaries in the home. They may also be less socially aware, finding it harder to make friends.
Only time will tell if this will become a truth, but until then, and until I am ready to have kids of my own, I want to be free to enjoy adult spaces without noisy and boisterous children taking over. Parents please take note.