PARENTS are often too frightened to say "no" to their teenage children for fear of confrontation and leave it to schools to deal with discipline, the Girls' Schools Association heard this week.
Lynda Warrington, association president, told delegates to its annual conference in Newport, south Wales, that experimenting with drugs, under-age drinking and sex were now considered quite acceptable.
"Parents are forced into a position where they think that if they say no their children will rebel. Surely, they say, it is better for their children to be happy.
"Some parents do not want to risk a confrontation and let them do almost anything, believing that they are sensible and will know what is right and what is wrong."
Mrs Warrington, head of Bradford Girls' Grammar School, said she was horrified how it had become the norm for 14 and 15-year-olds to spend their free time drinking in pubs.
"Under-age sex is considered quite acceptable by many as is experimentation with drugs. t is easier to let it happen than to say 'no'."
Mrs Warrington, whose association represents 200 private girls' schools, said one of the problems for schools was that they were perceived as out of touch if they tried to promote moral standards.
And she pointed to the irony of how very young children were protected far more today - to the extent that they are not allowed to take risks, like crossing a road - while teenagers were often allowed to break out.
Mrs Warrington said that parents shared a huge task to challenge and change the existing culture and that children needed to be given guidelines for their own behaviour.
She said that when she told parents at parents' evenings that they should not let their 13 and 14-year-olds go to pubs and clubs and check with other parents if sleepovers were planned they thanked her.
"I was amazed at the number of parents who came up to me afterwards to thank me, saying 'Now I can say no, because I can say you said so'."