A recent speech by a Dunedin Principal, which challenged parents to “step up” in their parenting and not leave so much for schools to do, met with much support and media attention. The Principal of Kings High School, Dunedin, said that it was unreasonable for parents to expect schools to deal with all aspects of learning and behaviour, leaving the parents free to be best friends with their teenage sons.

Until the 1980s schools managed boys behaviour with the threat of physical punishment. It usually achieved conformity but it didn’t necessarily develop the level of self-discipline that we now seek from young people in relation to their study and their life. Strong discipline is gone and so is the ability to settle young people with a painful consequence if they do not allow learning to take place. Teachers now attract, interest and engage students in their learning tasks. When students are not ready to be engaged in their work they disrupt learning for others and distract teachers from their work.

The pressure of modern living has pushed both parents back to fulltime work so that the socialising and monitoring of behaviour that went on with parents and children in the past is often done by pre-school, day-care and employed home help. When parents are together they often want to focus on an experience rather than engaging in shared activities with the children. Not preparing children for school and continuing to monitor them through their growing years has resulted in more distraction in classrooms. There is a cost to economic success and it might be borne by the next generation who still have to learn to behave appropriately among people and will not have witnessed how to raise a child of their own.