In The Guardian, David Lammy, Tottenham’s Labour member of parliament, notes the absence of fathers and other adult men to serve as role models in young men’s lives and asks:
“How do you find your masculinity in the absence of role models? Through hip-hop, through gang culture, through peer groups. It is hugely problematic. Teenagers are in school until 3.30, and then MTV, Facebook, the internet, kicks in with a set of values that comes with it. It is not clear to me that parents are equipped to deal with that. There’s an inability to delay gratification, alcohol, sex, drugs – this is presenting real challenges, and as always it hurts the poorest hardest. Why? Because if you have money you can bring in other things – ballet, football classes.”
Lammy knows the subject of weak parenting is so politically explosive that he was momentarily reluctant to discuss it at such a tense juncture.
The Conservative narrative of a broken Britain, championed by Cameron and the work and pensions minister, Iain Duncan Smith, which identifies poor parenting skills as the root of most social problems, had been broadly rejected by the left, he said. “The right have a lot to say about parenting, but no one on the left wants to talk about this. A void has emerged around it. It’s a profound problem.”
He laments the closure of a number of local youth clubs as a result of funding cuts. “These were some of the people who could talk to these young people, and they’ve lost their jobs.”
Last year, he proposed the introduction of the national civic service, to help instil an ethic of service in young people, but the proposal got little traction. He would like government parenting programmes to move beyond focusing on the first few years of a child’s life. “I’ve opened so many adventure playgrounds for under fives, but what about the teenagers? Sure Start is fine, but you need it to continue until the age of 18.”
As well as maternity leave, he thinks parents of teenagers should be allowed to take chunks of time off to look after their children at difficult moments in their development. “We need to move away from a narrative that is just about the early years.”