British children 'babied' by intrusive parents, says MP

Baby and parents Some parents "subjugate their own ambition into their kids", said Claire Perry

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UK children are being "babied" by overly-intrusive parents, leaving them unable to cope as they grow up, an adviser to David Cameron has said.

Conservative MP Claire Perry criticised parents for filling children's lives with too many organised activities, in an interview with the Times.

Parents were also failing to lay down the law and set "limits", she said.

Campaigners said politicians should stop "telling us how to be better parents" and focus on childcare policy.

Mrs Perry, who is the PM's adviser on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, said over-parenting was stifling children's ability to fend for themselves.

"We've created a treadmill, it's usually the mother that is orchestrating all of that and doing all the driving," she said.

"We worship this feminine motherhood thing and I don't think our children have benefited actually. They're babied a lot."

'Difficult stuff'

The mother of three, who took a seven-year break from her career in management consulting to look after her young children, explained mothers often became part of the problem because their own work-life balance struggled when starting a family.

Start Quote

Good parenting isn't just about making sure they come top in maths”

End Quote Claire Perry Adviser to David Cameron

"A lot of it is women who, because it is difficult to get on, subjugate their own ambition into their kids," she said.

"That makes it harder when they get to university and realise they haven't got a mother to help them with their homework, watching their every move. We've all done it."

She added she once tended to "hover" over her children: "Now, I just can't, so I don't, and I think they're probably better off as a result."

At the same time, Mrs Perry warned children were not being taught about the real dangers in life, especially the internet - which parents did not fully understand.

She said: "Good parenting isn't just about making sure they come top in maths, but all the difficult stuff too. If they don't learn the limits from us, who will tell them?"

Mrs Perry said most parents were too busy or ignorant to realise what their children were doing online.

"They are living in a digital oblivion," she said.

'Helicopter parents'

Social commentator Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent said parents were under "enormous pressure" from schools and society to mould their children and oversee their achievements.

"They find it difficult to let go and this cultivates a sense of dependency."

He added universities often had to adjust for incoming students "lacking a sense of maturity" with first year lecturers forced "to act like teachers, helping pupils along".

But Mrs Perry's views came under fire from Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, who insisted parents were "doing their best" and were "knackered most of the time".

She told BBC News: "Mothers are, sadly, used to copping a lot of blame - but being charged with being over-protective, cupcake-baking helicopter parents at the same time as being feckless, couch potatoes who let their children have unfettered internet access is a bit rich.

Claire Perry Mrs Perry said mothers were often the ones creating a "treadmill" for children

"Of course there are some 'tiger mum' types who are micromanaging packed improvement schedules for their children... but on Mumsnet certainly, they are far outweighed by others who share Clare Perry's view that unstructured time is really important."

Ms Roberts added: "Politicians could more usefully perhaps focus on improving local schools, job prospects, childcare options and flexible work solutions than telling us how to be better parents."

Labour MP Frank Field, who advised the coalition government on children's foundation years, also criticised Mrs Perry's comments as "amazing".

He highlighted the "desperate" situation for many disadvantaged children in the UK, urging the MP "not to attack those parents investing heavily in their children, but to find out why the vast majority of young people want to be good parents and yet a very, very, very substantial group of them fail to do so".

However Anna May Mangan, mother of four and author of Getting into Medical School: The Pushy Mother's Guide, told the BBC that being a hands-on parent was important because "our schools don't teach children to be competitive".

She said she had adopted a "praying mantis" style to help her children get into university, adding: "You can't choose for your child, but you can certainly support them when they know what they want to do."

Mrs Perry became the prime minister's adviser on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood in December 2012.

Proposals put forward by the Devizes MP include age ratings for sexually provocative music videos, restrictions on access to so-called "lads' mags", labelling on airbrushed photos in magazines and internet safety classes in schools.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    This is a bit of fluff, really. We all know parents who are like this, but we all know parents who are very "hands off." Politically speaking, I think this kind of announced news is a subtle dig at the idea of a "nanny state" thinking. There's no evidence really backing this up, when it's announced by an MP who wants to influence our perceptions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    She has a point. I know several twentysomethings, mostly male, who are totally unable to look after themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    My Mummy said I was there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.


  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Mrs Perry only qualification on child rearing is that she is a parent. This raises an number of questions: Mr Gove's only qualification on Education is he went to school. These two seem well qualified compared to the rest of the government... oh may be Mr Hunt has been to hospital. But, has Mr Hammond been a soldier? has Mr Duncan Smith been on benefits? I look forward to answers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    If this is the same Claire Perry who was a guest on question time last Thursday, then we may safely ignore her waffling. Worst panellist from any party for as long as I can remember; self important, rude, inaccurate and made intellectual mincemeat of by Neil Hamilton.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    I grew up very streetwise, but back then there was no social networking, games consoles, catch up tv, mobile phones or any other kind of digital intervention. Thinking about what childeren have available now from infant until adult and the influences that will have on their lives, time will only tell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Can David Cameron do a documentary? One much as Michael Portillo did back in the 90's? Where he is made to live on JSA? Maybe even change it for the norm now, a part time wage propped up by benefits? He'll have first hand experience of it then. He knows what it's like to have a very ill child, try it on benefits; benefits you may want to get away from but can't because the system is screwed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Classic example of parental negligence was the child who nagged his father for a password then innocently downloaded stuff from the internet at a huge cost. Why they were given their money back escapes me. It was a legitimate transaction that deserves the appropriate punishment to wake up the parents who, from what I have heard, think it is a huge joke!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Millions of British adults are babied by government, unable to look after themselves or their children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Her job is to advise "on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood", but instead of daring to regulate the cynical market that exploits children, she ends up blaming the parents left in the moral vacuum filled by politicians and corporate marketing.

    Nice easy job methinks

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I had the misfortune to see Ms Perry's characteristic hectoring and obnoxious performance on Thursday's Question Time, not her first but surely her worst appearance, I'd set no stall by anything she says. She's a condescending, genrealising know all operating on permanent send. To hear she is an ex Management Consultant explains a lot.

    You'd get more sense out of Katy Perry or Perry the Playtypus

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    As a parent you can not win. You have a crying baby; if you pick it up you're mollycoddling it, if you leave it to cry you are neglectful. Too many social workers have opinions that are forced on to parents without acknowledging that a one size fits all approach does not work because all children & families are different. Nanny state REALLY needs to back off parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Cameron promised an end to the Nanny State and now we are told what to eat or not, drink or not, parent or not. There have always been pushy parents, mostly amongst the middle classes. I pass a primary school in our middle class area and the cars queue up to drop the kids off, then I pass similar school on council estate and the pavements are full with kids either alone or with mum or dad WALKING!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The best one was two students overheard making a cup of tea. "How many sugars do you take?" said one. "I don't know," said the other, "My Mum always puts them in for me."
    If parents mollycoddle children, particularly boys, they grow up expecting to get their own way all the time & have everything done for them. This can lead to relationship breakdown and problems at work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    When i wwas a kid I got slapped in the face with a stick wrapped in barbed wire every night then slept outside on a mattress stuffed with broken glass.

    It never did me any harm...

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The nanny state is making it impossible for parents to discipline children effectively and make them realise there are levels of acceptable behaviour. I am not for one second advocating the return of caning or a parent hitting their child but a smack on the bottom is surely not reason to cry child abuse? Without boundaries how can children lean the difference between right and wrong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I think that it's probably best to talk to and treat children as though they were slightly more mature than they appear to be, so that, through the years of nurturing, they gradually become well-rounded, confident and happy people who know their self-worth and have respect for society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    We all want the best for our children. So we sign them up for play school then music lessons, holiday activities etc. When our kids see other kids doing these things they feel left out if they don't do them too.
    We drive them everywhere because we don't want them to be the only ones that walk. But it doesn't do them any favours as they don't learn independent skills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    One day we might be told what we Brits are good at.........


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