Helen Martin: Thumbs down to Facebook parents

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ONE of the hardest parts of growing older is learning to accept, with good grace and humility, that each generation does things differently, especially when changes don’t always seem to be for the better.

And there’s no more hotly contested area than parenting. I’m sure my grandmother didn’t approve of my mother’s new-fangled ideas, just as my mother bit her tongue and let me get on with things my way. Even I – never one for holding back – wouldn’t dream of telling the next generation face-to-face that their child-rearing could be improved. And if I did think that was the case, I’d put it down to generational differences or personal opinion and keep my mouth well zipped.

But the recent story about how a 42-year-old mother handled the fact that her 11-year-old son had no friends horrified me.

It was presented as a happy ending after the mum posted his plight on Facebook asking for birthday cards to make him, just for once, feel special and popular, in the hope that one or two people at school would respond. Instead the plea went viral and he received hundreds of cards and good wishes from strangers around the world, not to mention the 60 people that turned up at a local restaurant following her open invitation to party.

“He’ll have that memory for ever,” she said happily.

It still doesn’t mean he has any genuine friends. If anything – and this is why I’m not naming him or his mother – he’s been made out to be a pitiable misfit and his non-friends now may be even more likely to give him a wide berth, take the mickey or bully him. She might as well have drawn a bullseye on the kid’s back.

Most importantly, the obvious questions his mother should be asking are why he doesn’t have any friends, especially after six years at primary school, and what part she has played in producing a child who, apparently, no-one likes to the extent that he cries himself to sleep over it? Parenting involves an element of training – what’s good, what’s bad, how to be polite, instilling a sense of humour, how to stand up for oneself, be a rounded person and, yes, how to make friends. Did she think it was all about cuddles, doing homework and buying toys? Or maybe she wants to keep him close instead of giving him space to socialise with other kids his own age?

That seems to increasingly be the case with more children spending time at home with parents. A new Barratt Homes survey says 67 per cent of Scottish children now have the run of the entire home, taking over all the space in the house and leaving none for mum and dad to enjoy. Even a generation ago, only a third of kids said they had access to all areas in the home.

Are parents getting wimpy? Do they want to monopolise their children, keep them by their sides and stifle development rather than prepare them for independence? Are they jealous of their children’s friends and fearful of their offspring growing up to be their own person?

And if they do have parenting problems, are they now more likely to turn to Facebook for help rather than their own mums and dads?

No consistency from Uncle Sam

WHEN 25-year-old US soldier and low-level intelligence operator Private First Class Bradley Manning leaked a vast number of classified documents to WikiLeaks, including records of the US Apache helicopter which shot and killed a dozen people including two Reuters news staff, he claimed he had acted on moral grounds to expose the reality of what was happening in Iraq. Two years ago he got 35 years in a military prison for his actions.

When former US army four-star general and former CIA director David Petraeus, 62, was sentenced last month for leaking classified material including the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings plus private discussions with the president to his mistress, he got a $100,000 fine and two years’ probation. So much for the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Chimps are the real champs

SOMETIMES the US gets it almost right. The New York Supreme Court ruling that chimpanzees be treated as legal persons with the right not to be held in captivity and not to be owned is largely due to their intelligence and similarity to man. “Superiority” might have been a more accurate term.

Let’s make London independent

WELL, well . . . this is beginning to feel like a democratic revolution. Not only can neither Labour or Tories expect to win enough seats but the Ipsos Mori poll suggested the SNP could win all 59 in Scotland.

According to David Cameron, that could bring Britain “juddering to a halt”. Others claim the sky would fall in, the seas would dry up and the earth would burn. Personally I’m not sure if it’s a vote for the SNP or a vote against the two-party Westminster state which is no longer a viable government model.

Maybe we’re going at this the wrong way round. Rather than the SNP dream of Scots exiting the UK, perhaps the rest of us should simply get together to expel London and the South-East. Job done.