On BBC3, there is currently a series of programmes as part of their ‘Adult Season’, some of which have been really fascinating and moving. There was a programme about a young woman about to get married who wanted to decide which of the various father figures in her life should walk her down the aisle. Another was about a teenager whose mum is a glamour model (read page three girl) and her journey into adulthood. Her mum has real issues about body image and is addicted to plastic surgery. The programme shows what happens when such surgery goes wrong, and the difficulties mum had of letting her daughter take her own path in life.
Now, having just praised several of the shows, there are some programmes that are far more like Jeremy Kyle – truly awful but an occasional guilty pleasure. ‘Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum‘ comes into that category. It’s about a group of young people, ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-three, whose parents are fed up of their lazy and selfish behaviour. None of them have ever held down a job and some can’t even manage basics like doing laundry or cooking a meal for themselves. Each week, they are given a work placement and are sharing a house together. Their parents get to observe their behaviour and each week the young person voted the most useless has to leave, the eventual winner getting a cruise as their prize.
It would be tempting to have a real go at the young people about their uselessness (the trailer shows a twenty-year-old man getting his mum to wash his hair because he couldn’t be bothered) and blatant immaturity. In the first couple of shows, it was obvious that the only things they seemed to know how to do were giggle uncontrollably at everything, get drunk, fight and sponge off others. Some of them supplemented the household budget by stealing from shops and their bosses. None of them seemed capable of taking anything in life remotely seriously (hence the continuous giggling), of resolving arguments without resorting to shouting, or taking any pride in work.
However, the young people themselves seemed very much to be the products of their parents. One woman seemed to think stealing was perfectly fine, that promiscuity is normal and that using people is acceptable, which explains her son very well. They seemed to struggle to accept that their precious offspring could ever be in the wrong and couldn’t deal with their child being criticised, making excuses for them and setting almost non-existent standards. It reminded me of a time I told a small child off for throwing something at me, and her mum threatened to “f**king kill me”, saying that no-one could discipline her except her. I don’t envy that child’s teachers!
At this point, I should put my hands up and admit a degree of uselessness at eighteen. I’d been in a caring role for a fair percentage of my adolescence and so could do most household tasks, but had never been allowed to cook for myself in case I made a mess (my mum was a bit of a clean freak, to put it mildly!). My first meal at uni was burnt toast and overly runny boiled eggs. Thankfully, school cookery lessons meant I didn’t starve or end up existing off pasta (nice as it is) but it took me a while to get used to doing some things for myself. However, one thing I was not for my many faults was feckless.
It seems to me that clear boundaries and expectations are very important in bringing up children, as well as parents being able to deal with other adults correcting their children if necessary. My teacher friends have complained about the difficulties they have had when parents come charging into school whenever their child is told off. It makes it very hard to maintain discipline in the classroom. Similarly, if the parents in the programme don’t want layabouts for children, they need to get their act together and learn to say ‘no’, for starters. Easy for me, with no children, to say? Yes, perhaps, but my years of caring and working with kids in various contexts have taught me that parents and children need to be really that, not friends, at least until adulthood when there can really be an equal relationship. Young people need nurture, care, praise and encouragement. They also need boundaries.