30th March 2001 at 01:00
PARANOID PARENTING: abandon your anxieties and be a good parent. By Frank Furedi. Allen Lane pound;9.99.

Experts, don'cha just hate 'em? Frank Furedi does, and he is one (reader in sociology at the University of Kent). Since he became a father, it seems, he has been swamped with well-meaning advice, from advocates of breast-feeding to people warning of the health risks attached to watching TV, and scare stories about the dangers of ingesting toxins in pregnancy. Can't they just leave us alone? is his response.

What's wrong with watching TV, eating junk food and ignoring your children's prattle? Get out of our faces, experts. Isn't the greater danger that of being sucked into a morass of paranoid parenting and focusing too much on the little dears? What's wrong with a policy of benign neglect?

Well, nothing - most parents do that all the time. But most of us don't feel the need to justify our easy laxness by abusing those who remind us to exercise, read and listen to what our children say. Most of us even quite like the odd twinge of guilt, in between getting up to fetch another tube of Pringles - it reminds us that we care.

The paradox is that most of us expert-heeding types do care, whereas most of the advice is aimed at those who neither heed nor adequately care.

Unfortunately, in the world beyond those little enclaves in which discussions over the dangers of sitting too near the TV an the cost of piano lessons reign supreme, a lot of dodgy parenting is going on, as teachers can attest. Some children come to school unable to talk; unable even to answer to their names; lacking table manners, because they have never eaten at a table; unable to tie their shoelaces.

Twice as many are obese as 10 years ago. Special needs children may form 15 per cent of the child population, and most of that will be social, emotional and behavioural need. It is at this parent-related problem that most of the advice of experts and government advisers is aimed - and not, many would say, before time.

Still, Furedi is a sociologist and we all know how careful sociologists are not to accept any evidence until it is cast in stone. If he thinks the objective of all this advice is to frighten people into giving up control over their lives, who are we to argue? But I find it difficult not to snigger when a left-winger (Furedi is a founder member of the Revolutionary Communist Party) starts whingeing because well-intentioned health professionals have told him walking home from school can be hazardous for children. If this is a wicked capitalist plot to limit human potential, we have entered fairyland.

But perhaps his motivation is not so arcane. Perhaps, like many parents, he simply doesn't like being told what to do. Pass the Pringles, Frank, and stop hogging the remote.

Victoria Neumark

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