Children of character
by Jen Lexmond
Demos’ new report, Building Character, comes out tomorrow, telling us that parents are the principal architects of a fairer society through the impact they have on children’s character development.
A huge amount of information is available about parenting in the 21st century thanks to the Millennium Cohort Study, a longitudinal study tracking the development of children born in the year 2000. Demos’ analysis shows that parenting combining warmth and engagement with consistent enforcement of rules and boundaries do best in developing character in their kids. Using this ‘tough love’ approach has more impact than income, family structure, and every other background factor of a family.
However, we also know that while the ‘love’ part of tough love is evenly distributed across all parenting groups, the ‘tough’ bit is less common in lower income families, and in parents who lack strong support networks and who lack confidence in their parenting abilities. Setting boundaries for children and sticking to them is not an easy task for any parent. But for those with the added pressure of trying to make ends meet on a low income or of having to do the work and the care all on their own – in the case of single parented families – it is often nearly impossible. But the character traits that ‘tough love’ parenting develops in children – empathy, initiative, self-discipline, among others – is key to delivering success and happiness for their future.
This is why Building Character calls for more targeted support for parents who are really struggling. We want to see a Sure Start refocused on child development rather than childcare and one which is targeted and not universal – early years support is wasted on middle class parents who are adept at taking advantage of support services on offer and who tend to be doing the right things at home anyway. We want health visitors to have a bigger role in developing positive parent-child interaction in new families and more pilots of effective programmes like the Family Nurse Partnership.
Good parenting is key to social mobility and that means supporting struggling parents is something we owe to the kids.