Today’s Family is Tomorrow’s Society


Reflecting on the riots leads me to believe that the complexity of the situation which released such behaviour will need substantial intelligence, pragmatism and creativity to resolve. Like many I was struck by the image of a generation of angry, disillusioned and unpleasant young people who demonstrated quite clearly that they had no regard for adults and authority and cocked a massive snoop at us brazenly letting it be seen that they were neither fearful nor respectful of us adults.

Well, one reason for this is perhaps because we have abdicated our communal responsibility to be parents.  We have long since allowed our liberal selfishness to convince ourselves that decisions we made were good even if they had a negative impact on our children.  We indulged ourselves and did things that hurt children but persuaded us all that it was fine. They would be able to cope if we handled it right and gave them space and stuff. So we bought them everything they wanted and created a childhood consumerism that led to competition, self-indulgence and bullying.

To add insult to injury we then allowed cars to drive over their play space and kept them indoors behind the corrupting influence of television and the isolation of electronic gadgets and we pretended that everything was fine as they figured out how to handle their isolating bubbles of consumerism and abandon.  We ignored our role as community parents. Oh yes, we are all guilty, every time we failed to tackle a child in the street for shouting, for failing to chastise them as they litter, for ignoring bullying in schools or denying it, for using spurious reasons to explain away bad behaviour and failing set boundaries.  We then compounded it by intimidating the very institutions that could have supported us and filled them with equally unhelpful attitudes so eventually internal and external boundaries started to unravel. Of course, as ever the poor were first to feel it but now its a foam filing up every space in our heads, in our homes, in our communities and shown writ large across our TV screens.

With no boundaries, children get confused and cocky and fail to realise that they have to adapt to the adult world.  It’s not that world has to adapt to children on their terms but they have to learn to be part of the world and we failed to teach them that as well, confusing them and failing to help them understand their place in society. Finally, and worse than everything we told children they could be anything they wanted to be.  The world was their oyster just watch the X Factor which makes it all possible. We allowed the idea of instant gratification and success to cloud their reality but children are not stupid they soon saw the insincerity in all this promise of equality.  They recognised that maybe we had  dumbed down the school curriculum to help everyone pass but what was the message to all those who could not pass that? You become a mega failure and then begin to shout out in anger at the lies, become a NEET and act like one. There was no promised land.

As adults we have a lot to answer for and we cannot go into blame mode.  We are all complicit in creating the monster that let rip this week. 


We need to change our tack and provide jobs and apprentices and implement an early intervention approach for the next generation. I was glad to see David Lammy MP comment in the Guardian on Thursday that we need to support parents not just until their children go to school but right up to the adulthood. At last someone is listening and getting the importance of a multigenerational approach. I have long advocated a community approach to running childcare which is underpinned by a multigenerational service.  Let’s hope local authorities reflect this in their future contracts and delivery approach.  We need a proper agreed and focused means to early intervention and accept our responsibilities to be parents not just to our own children but across the community. Like the African proverb we have to remember that it takes a village to rear a child.


  1. #1 by stewart thomson on August 19, 2011 - 8:27 am

    June. Fully agree with your original blog and the other contributors. just wanted to expand a little to continue thos important discussion. I am old enough to have been influenced by Rutter and his Cycle of Deprivation. The reasons why those involved in the riots are complex and multi faceted. My concern is not the analysis but the consequences. One of the very few heartening images for me were people from those communities coming out in support of businesses. As Blunkett said, those who have been sentenced for their part in the riots will be returning to those same communities. What will have changed? Those families will not have miraculously improved their ability to influence; how can communities respond to those who feel so disenfranchised they destroy what is around them?

    • #2 by June O'Sullivan on August 19, 2011 - 11:07 am

      indeed, and the worry is that people always want to look outside of themselves for the answers and politicians tend to focus only on the short-term. Its really everyone of us that needs to help respond and change this situation because in the end we all are vulnerable. That was so evident as businesses and social enterprises and charities were burnt to the ground. I think what we do at LEYF goes some way to beginning to tackle such an intractable problem; hence our plans for growth but we need to also share our responsibility to keep the issue alive and begin to strengthen what we do to support parents to take some control and apply some control and together we need to articulate what we need to do to impose some discipline on everyone. Demos produced a book in 2009 called “parents are the principal architects of a fairer society” its a good point to start from.

  2. #3 by Gary Simpson on August 17, 2011 - 4:42 pm

    Perfectly put June. After returning from a short break abroad to Peckham, where I have lived for over eleven years I was devastated to see my community ransacked and destroyed. There is so much we blame our young children for without ever stopping to consider what we teach. As Robert Ingersoll a veteran of the American civil war said ‘In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences’ and this is something that we often neglect to reinforce, our actions have consequences and we should take responsibility for them..

  3. #4 by Sue Chambers on August 15, 2011 - 4:50 pm

    You are so right June.

    For too long British society has been ruled by woolly liberalism. When I was mid-rant about the rioting one of my sons jokingly pointed out that I too had been a protester in my youth and questioned whether I was growing into a right-winger in my old age!

    Yes, I did protest. I sat in the road singing “We shall overcome” against the Vietnam War. I marched with CND against nuclear weapons. I joined the Greenham women, and protested against the Falklands war. I truly believed that peaceful protest would change the world for the better.

    So how have so many of my generation produced the current generation of parents who put material weath and self-gratification above the needs of their children – the very same children who felt they had the right to riot and help themselves to whatever they wanted even though it belonged to someone else .

    Tragically we see this same lack of respect in the very young, those still too little to have taken part in the recent rioting. As a teacher I frequently came across three year olds who talked about their rights. “You can’t tell me off because I’ll tell my dad and he’ll come and beat you up”.

    And then the parents – the one who, after referring the family to Social Services after the child protection case conference told me I was dead and that night burnt my nursery to the ground.

    How did we post-war baby-boomers get it so wrong?

%d bloggers like this: