Helen Martin: Parents need to resist Wonkas

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THERE was one childhood excuse for bad behaviour that never worked for my generation. When the angry parent or teacher asked “Why did you do that naughty thing?”, woe betide the child that painted themselves into idiot corner by saying by way of defence: “So-and-so told me to do it.”

The adult eyes narrowed, and along with that smart, condescending tone that grown-ups do very well, would come the retort: “And if So-and-so told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that too?”

For the record, So-and-so (assuming he or she was another child) would not be chastised. Yes, they might have given the “order” ... but it took a fool to follow it. Children had to learn to think for themselves.

Parenting, like so many things, was different in those days.

Take shopping, for instance. It also used to be a fairly simple affair. The shopkeeper set out his goods. The customer chose which of these things they wanted to buy; money changed hands; job done. If the shopkeeper stocked something that customers didn’t want to buy, he didn’t order it again.

If, on the other hand, something sold like hot cakes, he’d re-stock in a jiffy. That’s business.

I imagine today, there are many protective parents who would excuse their pliant child claiming they were “easily led”, and give So-and-so pelters instead.

Certainly we now seem to be blaming the shopkeepers for stocking what we want to buy.

According to the Children’s Food Campaign, supermarkets are undermining parents’ efforts to feed their children healthily by displaying unhealthy food or drinks at checkouts where families have to queue.

What they fail to appreciate is that the supermarket having these sweets, crisps and chocolates on display doesn’t automatically mean parents have to buy them. The campaign says the supermarkets are “prompting pester power” which sounds suspiciously to me like saying: “I can’t say no to my child so please help me by not putting ideas into his head.”

How about a campaign to teach parents that what their child eats is their responsibility and theirs alone, with the possible exception of school dinners? Or that the tempting till-side display of sweeties is not a threat but an ideal opportunity to engage their child in discussion.

“No Johnny, you can’t have a bar of chocolate. You had sweets after lunch. Too much junk will make you fat and anyway ... ” turn up the volume at this point so everyone in the queue hears “... the supermarket only puts them there hoping greedy children will ask for them and daft parents will give in. You’re not greedy – and I’m not daft.”

It worked for me. Yet following the Children’s Food Campaign logic, today’s children and parents seem to have taken on the characteristics of visitors to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. They see it, they want it, they must have it. Nothing to do with their own greed or stupidity. It’s all Wonka’s fault.

I’m all for clearer labelling; for lists of additives; reduced salt, fat and sugar in processed foods; for home-cooking with real ingredients; and for training children – and adults – to eat less sugar rather than switching to horrible, chemical sweeteners. Information and transparency are what we need to make good decisions.

But there’s no supermarket conspiracy or pretence going on at the checkout. There’s nothing sneaky about a bar of chocolate. It is what it says on the packet ... a creamy, sugary, calorie-laden indulgence, an occasional treat, preferably one or two squares only at a time. It’s up to the customer to decide whether to buy it or not. Obviously, many do, because supermarkets quickly give up on sales tactics that don’t work.

Removing the temptation might spare mothers and fathers from being nagged by their offspring until their heads hurt, but it won’t do much for kids. That’s what parenting is all about – setting rules and parameters and teaching kids how to say no when temptation calls, as it inevitably will.

If parents can’t do that, they need more lessons. They can’t blame the supermarket any more than we could blame So-and-so.

Lane excuses

THANK goodness there’s to be a review of bus lanes in Edinburgh, otherwise I might just have thought the new spy cameras were only there to raise money rather than keep Greenways clear!

When is a bus lane not a bus lane? Maybe at weekends; sometimes between morning and evening rush hour ... it varies. And the signs are too small.

Best to avoid bus lanes altogether – but that means traffic using only half the road legally available, creating unnecessary jams, delay and congestion.

If it’s important people stick to the rules, the rules have to be clear and preferably the same for every bit of bus lane in the city. On the other hand, if the Council’s goal is to fine as many as possible, it makes perfect sense to create as much confusion as it can by having different times on different routes applying on different days.