Interesting. My father was fairly scathing of anything I attempted to do. Certainly at no point can I recall him ever giving me any encouragement in anything: I do wonder if thats the reason why I tend not to be ever satisfied with anything that I do. I tend to look for faults. A bit of a pat on the back occasionally might have helped.
My children are perfect. All four of them. Perfect and beautiful and clever. I bet yours are, too. Except, of course, they are not. In reality, my children and yours are likely to be reasonably average in terms of looks, behaviour, intelligence and charm. That’s why it is called average. Your belief in your child being special is more probably a biological imperative than an empirical fact.
A loved one, particularly a loved child, is edited as we observe them. Other people’s children are bratty; ours are spirited. Theirs are precocious; ours confident and self-assertive.
This is all natural and even touching when not taken too far. However, it is one thing feeding this propaganda to ourselves but feeding it to our children may be a little less desirable. We have the idea that – unlike my parents’ generation – we should build our children’s self-esteem as high as we can. Therefore, their random scribble is up there with Picasso, their C-minus is an unfortunate oversight on the part of the teacher, the fact that no one wants to be friends with them is because they are particularly clever or sensitive, the wart on their nose is a beauty spot.
Children see through this kind of thing very quickly and discount their parents’ compliments as a matter of course. As they grow up, they sense that the wider world judges them differently. This leads to a – hopefully gentle – cynicism about anything their parents tell them about their achievements. Perhaps that is OK – but I’m not sure it is good for them to have the currency of parental praise so devalued.
If parents were a little harsher sometimes, this could have two positive effects – first, when a compliment came, it would be more likely to be believed and, second, it would fit in rather more accurately with the picture of reality that the child is forming in their heads.
A lot of pressure is put on children who are told they are beautiful, special and perfect. Because then, where is there to go? Only downwards. They become hyperaware of their status in your eyes, and a danger must be that they fear failing you. To be overpraised by your parents is the counter side of being criticised all the time. Both can have negative consequences.
It is important to give your children the liberty to be flawed – to know that it’s OK to be imperfect, and that, in fact, we often love people for their flaws – perfect people (whom we can only imagine, as they do not exist) are easy to respect, but hard to love.
Now I am nearly 60, my main insight is that I am much less special than I once believed. This knowledge has actually been helpful in leading a more well-balanced life. I’d call it humility, if it weren’t very un-humble to attribute myself with the quality.
I certainly wouldn’t like to go back to attitudes that my parents, particularly my father, held, that to praise the child was to “spoil them” or make them bigheaded. However, the history of families is like the history of everything else – the story of overreactions. We praise our children to the skies, partly because we think it makes them feel good, but also because it makes us feel good. And perhaps it is more the latter than the former.
Having said all this, I am a terrible overpraiser, because I adore my children. I’m sure they have learned to take everything with a pinch of salt, but excessive love can be as big a burden as a shortage of it. My advice, at least to myself, is to ration not splurge. Then every compliment will count, rather than amounting to little more than a vaguely pleasing – but finally inauthentic – background Muzak, so persistent it isn’t even noticed.
Well for me in my particular circumstances I can see that some zero hours contracts might work. However for most folk they are not a good thing and should not be used to replace more secure working arrangements.
Let’s not be sour. The bounceback in jobs during the current recovery has been staggering – exceeding all predictions. During the depths of the slump too, although things were dreadful, the UK shed far fewer posts than any of the macroeconomic models suggested. Whereas in the past there had been something close to a one-for-one proportional relation between lost jobs and lost output, for every three percentage points of GDP that disappeared after 2008, only 1% of jobs went up in smoke.
But let’s not be blinkered either. If there is reason to be cheerful in the quantity of jobs in a famously flexible labour market, there is reason to be fearful when it comes to the quality. Underemployment, perma-temping and the recasting of low-grade staffers as “self-employed” hires shorn of all rights were striking features of working life in the recession, and all trends that have been stubbornly slow to reverse in the recovery. That much is reaffirmed every month when the official labour market statistics appear. Nothing, however, sums up the pall of insecurity that has befallen so much of the workforce like zero-hours contracts. We can’t map the numbers over long years in this case, because – until recently – the arrangement was still so exotic that no proper figures were collated. Slowly but surely, however, the information gap is being filled and, in every new droplet of data, zero emerges as the number that keeps getting bigger.
At the dawn of the slump it was estimated that there were fewer than 200,000 “jobs” without guaranteed hours. Since then much has changed – the term “zero hours” has gained currency, definitions have changed, and new data sources have been tapped to tally up the individual workers affected, recognising that some will rely on multiple jobs. But through all the refinements and seasonal blips that might colour the figures, there has been only one trend. The Office for National Statistics reported on Wednesday that there were 1.8m zero-hour contracts, and 697,000 zero-hours workers, both numbers that have been climbing fast.
Not every no-strings contract represents exploitation, it’s true, but too many do. While there are a few professionals happy to put in a well-paid hour on an as-and-when-needed basis, the ONS confirmed that the real zero-hours boom is in pubs, hotels and restaurants, sectors where low pay is rampant. While some big zero-hours groups, such as students, may be content to avoid fixed weekly commitments, it is dismaying to learn that it is mostly women who are working with zero security. A sharp rise in zero-hours workers of two to five years’ standing confirms that this way of doing business is becoming not only more widespread but also more entrenched.
After much delay, the coalition talks about banning the most abusive contracts, which actually bar staff from seeking employment with anyone else while they hang around waiting for shifts that may not come their way. It may be a start, but it’s not enough. At the very least, zero-hours workers must be given – as Labour proposes – a right to demand steady hours after six months.
For 160 years the Daily Telegraph has been as integral a part of British life as the long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer and cycling to evensong that John Major once invoked, while paraphrasing George Orwell. You may not have shared the paper’s politics, but it was widely respected for straight, accurate news reporting of the sort that is essential to any healthy democracy.
This week the paper’s integrity suffered something of a body blow when its highly respected former chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, published a devastating attack on the newspaper’s ethical standards. Mr Oborne detailed a pattern of behaviour in which, he said, stories had been suppressed, removed, downplayed, boosted or discouraged in order not to offend – or, alternately to please – advertisers and/or financial institutions. His decision to go public with his allegations was sparked by the minimal coverage devoted to last week’s revelations – widely reported in the UK and round the world – about HSBC’s part in creating and encouraging tax evasion mechanisms. Mr Oborne believes the story was downplayed because the company’s chief executive, Murdoch MacLennan, was anxious not to lose advertising revenue from the bank. This is a serious accusation, since Mr MacLennan told the Leveson inquiry on oath that neither he nor the paper’s owners played any part in editorial decisions.
If Mr Oborne’s claims are right, he is justified in saying that the HSBC coverage, or lack of it, amounts to a fraud on Telegraph readers. A number of senior executives and former editorial staff at the newspaper have, albeit anonymously, endorsed Mr Oborne’s general critique. The paper, normally an advocate of transparency, has so far declined to answer any detailed questions about Mr Oborne’s article. A long, dishonest and callow editorial on Friday almost comically attempted to shift the blame onto the BBC and the Guardian. You would never guess that the criticism – unreported in the Telegraph – actually came from neither of these sources, but from their own much-celebrated former colleague, who until recently was writing editorials.
Many news organisations, old and new, rely on advertising. Indeed, the noted historian of British newspapers, Francis Williams, described in his 1958 book, Dangerous Estate, how the daily press “would never have come into existence as a force in public and social life if it had not been for the need of men of commerce to advertise. Only through the growth of advertising did the press achieve independence”. But the reverse can also be true – as evidenced by widespread and dismal practices in the Indian press in which editorial coverage is routinely bought, and newspapers invest in companies about which they write.
The Telegraph, as a privately owned newspaper, is not obliged to respond to questions about its editorial standards. If it wants to put up shutters and throw mud at rivals, it’s perfectly entitled to do so. But, the longer it remains silent, the more its readers may draw their own conclusions about the integrity of a great British institution.