What is wrong with disciplining children?

Saturday 18 October 2014,
Battle of Ideas 2014
Frobisher 4-6, Barbican Centre, London, England.
Therapy Culture

Over the past few decades, the idea that education and family life should be ‘child centred’ has been taken up by researchers, campaigners and governments. Schooling, it is suggested, should be driven by what children want to learn. Life in the home should be a negotiation between parents and children on everything from meals to holiday destinations. The welfare of the child is ‘paramount’ – parental responsibilities trump parental rights, which are seen to be potentially in conflict with the interests of the child.

Alongside this notion is the belief that old-fashioned disciplining of children – whether through physical chastisement or simply demanding that kids behave according to the demands of adults – is not simply wrong, but harmful, too. Sweden has been at the forefront of this change, introducing a ban on smacking as long ago as 1978, though such laws have spread across the Western world. Critics argue that these laws, and the child-centred approach more generally, have produced a generation of unruly and undisciplined children who are ill-equipped for independent living.

Two high-profile speakers with strong opinions on the subject of parenting culture will discuss the issue of disciplining children. Swedish psychiatrist David Eberhard believes that his country’s cultural and political shift towards a child-centred society has been harmful for children and adults alike. In an interview for his book, How Children Took Power, Eberhard argued: ‘There’s no scientific evidence whatsoever that an authoritarian upbringing is harmful to kids. You can take command in the family. The family is not a democracy.’


Frank Furedi has been researching and writing about Anglo-American ‘parenting culture’ for 15 years, identifying the problems of weakening adult solidarity and the increasing mistrust in adult-child relationships, the overwhelming view of childhood as a time of life-determining vulnerability, and the tendency to hold parents to account for all manner of social problems. His best-selling book, Paranoid Parenting, first published in 2001, argues that parenting has become a key arena for policymakers, where the vulnerability of children is exaggerated and the abilities and interests of parents are denigrated.

Have we handed over too much power to children? Are we so concerned with children’s vulnerability that we are unable to effectively discipline them? Do we even know what values we need to instil in the next generation? Is effective parenting possible in a culture so wary of drawing a distinction between adults and children? Are parents too busy being friends with their children to show them who is boss?


Dr David Eberhard – head of staff and senior consultant, Prima psychiatry; author, How Children Took Power

Professor Frank Furedi – Associate, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury; author, Wasted, Politics of Fear, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history


Dr Jan Macvarish – research fellow, Centre for Health Services Studies; founding associate, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury

Produced by
Dr Jan Macvarish research fellow, Centre for Health Services Studies; founding associate, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent, Canterbury


Well parenting and what works on what doesn’t is always something that is going to be up for discussion. I mean either we are too strict as parents or too passive and both approaches can have an adverse affect on the developing child. So what is really wrong with disciplining children? Currently the child centred approach appears to be giving too much power to our children and is not really beneficial in the long run. Dr David Eberhard (author of “How Children Took Power”) argues that children in Sweden at 11 years old are the second happiest kids in the world and by the time they are 13 years old they are about mid point in the survey to measure wellbeing. However at aged 15 years they are amongst the unhappiest children in the world! So a quite significant contrast to their starting point!

The very idea of how we socialise our children has been brought into question. Are they socialised based on our (parents/carers) beliefs and values, do we leave it to the experts or to chance?

Children in my view require boundaries and discipline that are rational/logical and with the objective of guiding through love. So there is no place in this view of good parenting for corporal punishment, abusive language and indeed the overall disempowerment of children. The adult or parent needs to be in charge and not the child and it is not acceptable therefore to hide behind the statement “You must not do to a child what you would not do to an adult”. There are many things I would do with a child and not an adult (and vice versa)! Children needed to be guided well and to do so parents need to be parents!

In an organisation, a strong leader who has a degree of emotional intelligence already possesses one of the ingredients necessary for the recipe for success. Parents/carers, amongst other attributes, need to be emotionally literate or have support to develop in this area. This will enable them to attune to or recognise and respond appropriately to the needs of their children. However (amongst other things) they must also be confident, consistent and feel empowered to parent.

Too many experts telling parents/carers what to do is not the answer. Yes there are cases where expertise is required and necessary to enhance child development, however theory and research illustrates that “good enough” parenting is all a child needs in order for him/her to grow up as a ‘well adjusted’ member of society.

It is a good thing for children to be obedient, to experience having to face reasonable and age appropriate challenges and not necessarily get what they want all the time. Discipline provides a sense of boundaries and according to Professor Frank Furedi, promotes transformation. He goes on to add that healthy relationships also require a degree of rebellion and that there would be a huge problem in a society where everyone conformed. This conformity may lead to children being less ready for school. He added that we have a rise in behavioural problems as a result of “child Centredness”.

At this rate are we heading to achieving the same outcomes as Sweden or worst still are we already there?

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

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Battle of Ideas 2014 – What is wrong with discipling children? Further reading 18.09.14

Battle of Ideas 2014 – Tiemo Talk of the Town reviews

Battle of Ideas 2013 – Tiemo Talk of the Town reviews

Battle of Ideas 2012 – Tiemo talk of the Town reviews

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3 Responses to What is wrong with disciplining children?

  1. Tiemo Talk says:

    I think we could be on the way to becoming like Sweden. I disagree though that a child centred approach will result in having some of the unhappiest children in the world. Children in Britain have too much by way of material wealth, goods, gadgets etc.. to be truly unhappy.

    I can see the weakness in the child centred approach and how it may have increased juvenile delinquency, resulted in increased numbers of young men finding themselves incarcerated and lost in the system. This in part could be a result of the rise of single mothers, trying to be mother and father to their offspring and over compensate with niceness to make up for the fact they can be out working a lot to provide for their family. That’s all well and good, but parents need to remember they are leaders too. Not their children’s friends or peers.

    As Frank Furedi says it is the parent’s duty to provide a transformational role in their children’s lives. They owe them that much in order to provide them with the best chance of growing up as well adjusted adults equipped to function capably and find their way in the world. That is worth far more than any guilt presents and freedom you grant your children via a child centred parenting model.

  2. Pingback: Is it ever right to smack up your kid? | tiemotalkofthetown

  3. Pingback: Is it ever right to smack up your child? | tiemotalkofthetown

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