Who is parenting whom?

I am of the belief that the way children are being raised matters, but it also has to be in conjunction with the way the nation is being governed

I came across a number of different things recently in a sort of chain of serendipity which linked them to each other like breadcrumbs which all lead to the same topic.

First, I continued watching a Netflix show called Ginny & Georgia, depicting the lives of a mother and daughter. But this is not your usual parent/child relationship because the mother was only 15 when she had her, so the age gap is so slight, it is almost negligible. Now 15 herself, Ginny the daughter acts more like the adult than Georgia, her free-spirited, unconventional mother, who never wants to stay in one town too long and seems to always be on the prowl.

The reversal of the two roles is something that often happens when a mother does not want to act like a ‘typical mother’ who sets boundaries and disciplines her kids, but has a nonchalant, laissez-faire attitude towards the whole parenting thing. And while children are invariably embarrassed by their parents no matter what they do – the embarrassment is taken to a whole other level when one’s mother is so sexy and flirty that she gets all the attention everywhere she goes.

The interesting thing about Ginny & Georgia is that while the teenage mother theme has often been explored, depicting her struggles and woes, this series also looks at it from the lens of the child herself. As a giggly toddler, Ginny loves having a mom who is still a child herself, who dances and plays with her using pots and pans. As she hits puberty, however, the dynamics change, and moving all the time while always being the “new kid” at school no longer holds the same sense of adventure. Ginny becomes more serious, more introspective, more aware, and starts questioning their nomadic lifestyle.

In the meantime Georgia has had another child, a son, by another man, and Ginny becomes fiercely protective of him. In the first episode Georgia is singing the lyrics of a suggestive rap song and it is the daughter who admonishes her mother – “do you really think this is appropriate for a 9-year-old?” And it is Georgia, the 30-year-old mom, who rolls her eyes like a teenager who has been scolded. Later, instead of being shocked when she catches Ginny’s boyfriend smoking weed, she casually shares the joint with him.

The next thing on my radar was an interview with former First Lady Michelle Obama about the trials and tribulations of raising teenagers. Unequivocally she makes a statement I firmly believe in – namely that parents cannot be friends with their kids. “Once you decide you want your child to be your friend, now you’re worried about them liking you. And there’s so much of parent that has nothing to do with them liking you… So much of what you’re going to have to teach them is counter to what they want.”

Then, I happened upon another video clip purely by chance – Lorella Cuccarrini speaking as a judge to one of the contestants during the talent show Amici. After watching footage of this young girl being consistently late for her lessons and costume fittings and showing disrespect by not following instructions or looking completely bored, Lorella reprimanded her sternly: “In all my many years in this business, I was never ever late for a costume fitting. It simply was not allowed.” She reminded the student that having the privilege of attending a school such as this cannot be met by a lack of respect towards professionals who are there working for her.

You might be wondering where all this is heading. Well, OP these three separate observations came on the heels of an incident, the news of which spread as quickly as a bushfire throughout the island. Last weekend in Valletta, a gang of teenagers assaulted a group of four boys, aged 14, for completely no reason, throwing them to the ground and kicking them in the head and ribs. One boy ended up with a broken leg and had to undergo surgery.

The reactions to this story have, inevitably, been focused on the age-old question: who is to blame for this delinquent behaviour? The Prime Minister was quick to blame parents, the public was quick to blame him for creating a society where anything goes. There are always a chorus of voices which scream, “what do you expect under a Labour government?” followed just as quickly by those who go on the defensive with the mantra that “these things have always happened.”

But, if you ask me, it is a culmination of everything which has brought us to this. It is clear that there is a certain teenage demographic which is increasingly out of control who then grow up to be 20 and 30-somethings out of control.

There is a dire lack of police presence and enforcement in the capital city which is turning to another Paceville, especially since the authorities have relaxed the restrictions on loud music. The trendier Valletta has become, the more people are flocking there for a night out, which means you need more police patrols on the lookout for unruly behaviour rather than waiting until something happens as it did last weekend. The city has now become the roaming ground for teenagers with nowhere else to go and while most are good kids who are being allowed “out” for the first time by their parents to have some innocent fun, others have formed gangs. These gangs are also milling around, restless and it seems, just looking for a fight, making Valletta unsafe for others.

But gangs and bullies do not come out of nowhere, in a vacuum, and this is why if our society is to have any hope, there needs to be discipline from the very top. It starts quite rightly, as many have said, from the authorities and the Police, and has to trickle down to parents who have (or should have) authority over their underage children. There is no point in trying to act cool and hip like the fictitious Georgia I mentioned above, because children actually want and need boundaries, otherwise they will be bewildered and directionless, drifting and insecure, not knowing right from wrong. Until they have matured, forget about being their buddy or friend so that they will like you…because whether you like it or not there will be times when children will actually say they “hate” you, especially if you give them rules. It’s OK, that phase will pass, and eventually yes, you can be friends, but only when they have become adults.

There may be a time and place to be open-minded and liberal, but it is certainly not during the formative childhood years. Children first need structure and stability, not parents who let them do what they want because (let’s face it) constantly being a parental figure laying down the rules can be exhausting and it is so much easier to say yes to everything so you can have a peaceful life. But absent parents (whether physically or emotionally) are a recipe for trouble. Let’s face it, if no one cares where you are or what you are doing, how can you feel cared for and loved?

And finally, probably the most crucial of all – children need to be taught how to respect others through a thousand different ways. You do not keep people waiting, you are not rude or offensive, you are not arrogant towards anyone serving you, you must always say please and thank you, you make it a point to thank people who give you presents or invite you to their home …the list goes on. I can always tell when people have not learned these basic tenets of good manners as children because they carry this attitude of entitlement with them throughout their adulthood. If you point it out, they are oblivious and even surprised that they are behaving in a gauche manner; to them it is just a part of who they are.

At the risk of generalising, if you look closely enough you will see that their parents (9 times out of 10) are the same. Of course, there are exceptions, but then it’s usually because the child has been unduly influenced by falling in with the wrong crowd.

So yes, I am of the belief that the way children are being raised matters, but it also has to be in conjunction with the way the nation is being governed. Respect at home translates itself into respect for teachers, your place of work, the Police and society in general. Everyone has to lead by example and that includes the PM who instead of simply pointing his finger at parents, must also realise that unless real law and order is restored, unless we feel that those who transgress and break the law are punished, then the message will continue to be skewed. It’s basic Parenting 101 – discipline must always be consistent and you cannot keep changing the goalposts, where some parts of society keep getting away with everything, no matter what they do.