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Dads need to be firmer? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 5th April 2017

April 5, 2017

Dads need to be firmer?

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council and the former headmaster of Harrow School, says dads are sometimes playing a part in boys “grotesquely underperforming” by “trying too hard” to be their best friends. He says that where this is the case, boys have become disadvantaged as they need “firm discipline.” In his book Much Promise, Mr Lenon calls on schools to help parents enforce certain rules, adding that fathers should punish rude children, set bed times that mean 12 to 16-year-olds get eight to nine hours of sleep and impose limits on the use of electronic devices.

I am sure that where Mr Lenon refers to ‘Dads’ he would also agree that if there is not a Dad at home (and even where there is) then it’s vital that the carer / parent of either gender is firm, caring and appropriate in their setting of expectations and in maintaining discipline. We all need the security of boundaries: which parent wouldn’t give their child a firm rebuke if he / she tries to run across a road or fails to heed warnings about eating lovely red coloured ‘fruit’ (actually red peppers) – as happened to me (by my foolish choice)?

In the cold light of day I suspect most parents would agree that children need clear bedtimes, rules over the use of mobile technology and social media and guidance about how to respond to social interaction. Unfortunately, unless we are disciplined ourselves, prepared to ride the tantrums and put up with the ‘embarrassment’ of our child crying in public when they are told ‘no’, willing to impose sanctions such as the loss of some rewards, even freedoms, then the ‘cold light of day’ resolution will always remain a theory.

I have a dad (now in his 90s) who was strict with me but I never doubted his love and care even when (occasionally) I had the strap or was sent to my room for being rude or uncooperative. Mum, too, was firm but she it was who applied liberal amounts of bananas to my mouth after the aforementioned brush with red peppers whilst my dad, quite rightly, declared ‘he’ll learn his lesson now!’ Although a boarder for 13 years throughout my schooling (and thus having surrogate ‘parents’ to direct my ways) I was always aware of adults setting necessary boundaries. This didn’t prevent me from testing these from time to time – and being prepared for the consequences – but I never doubted that this was how things should be. In the same way that I didn’t expect my teachers to be my ‘best friends’, nor did I expect this of my parents.

Most parents that I come across now, do seem to have a measure of Mr Lenon’s ‘firm discipline’ with their children and, in partnership with us at school, are directing their young ones in the way they should go. Just occasionally, however, I come across one who seems to expect the school to take on their role as boundary-setter and disciplinarian so that they can be matey at home. Sadly, this inevitably means the young person’s experience at both home and at school is an unhappy one and the dictum on the wall of my study becomes a real challenge to achieve: ‘it’s better to build children than to repair men’.

2016.3.9 HM blog

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

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Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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