It's a tough time to be a kid, says Tanya Byron
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine
She's gone from sorting out children's tantrums on TV to heading a new government inquiry. With it comes huge responsibility, but it's nothing compared with being a parent says psychologist Tanya Byron.
There are few givens when it comes to raising children. Will they eat their greens? Will they ever learn to share? Will they go to university? Will they score the winning goal in the World Cup final?
Who knows, is the short answer. But when it comes one area of life, it's a certainty that children will eventually have the edge over their parents - with new technology.
It's long been heavily implicated in turning the tables of the parent-child relationship. But seldom has the gap in knowledge been as vast as it is today, and we have the internet to thank for that.
Tanya Byron has two children
It has revolutionised not just the learning process, but the whole structure of communication and entertainment for youngsters.
While parents can remember a time when it didn't exist, the virtual world has always been a reality for today's young. It's a world where adults are just visitors and children are the natives.
Disparities in knowledge are nothing new says psychologist Tanya Byron, who has just been appointed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to be head of an inquiry into the internet and children.
"There are always shifts in knowledge between parents and children because culture, context and society is always changing," says Byron, best known for her role on the BBC series The House of Tiny Tearaways.
"But technology is developing at a pace rarely seen before and now our children have access to information and technology that many of us just have no idea about."
Never have children been exposed to so much information. It opens up new worlds, but not all of them are good and Byron's remit includes looking at the effects on children of violent and pornographic material on the web.
Internet is 'amazing learning tool'
She will not say where she stands on such issues, as she says she has to be impartial as the head of such an inquiry. But she's keen to get across that the aim of the inquiry is not to stop children using the internet, just protect them.
Quite what such inquiries achieve is also open to debate. It could end up producing yet another list of "rights and wrongs" - and therein lies the conundrum when it comes to Byron.
She has just announced she will not be making any more of the TV parenting programmes she helped pioneer. She says the "expert-driven parenting industry" is "saturating" parents with information.
"The industry is working against itself. It's taking away people's confidence to be instinctive about parenting. Suddenly there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. It's a time of real confusion."
So is yet another inquiry and the publication of her new book, Your Child, Your Way, the answer? She hopes both will "empower" parents and not just produce even more rules for them to follow.
"I'm not saying all the books out there are bad, we've just got to restore parents' confidence in their own ability rather than tell them what to do."
'Tough' being a kid
She argues her approach is about getting people to really think about the kind of parent they are and the kind of parent they want to be, but mostly it's about getting them to understand their child.
As a clinically trained psychologist with 17 years' experience in the NHS, Byron has always tried to avoid "methods" and look a bit deeper.
"Parenting is not a job with a series of techniques that we do to our children," she says.
She also tries to look at things from the child's perspective and says it's tough being a kid these days, with such high expectations when it comes to behaviour.
"Nowadays, when a child is having a tantrum they are labelled as being this awful, horrendous monster who's going to grow up and be this nightmare adult," she says.
"Yes, they can be embarrassing and hard to deal with but they're a very normal part of a child's behaviour. I love kids who have tantrums as often these big dramatic scenes are hilarious, it's just how you frame a situation."
With two children of her own, she speaks from experience but is the first person to admit she does not always follow her own advice.
"I don't have star charts all over the house," she says. "My job has not made me a better or worse parent, I am just the parent I am. But being a parent does make me a better practitioner."
She is also fully aware that often there is no definitive answers when it comes to youngsters and says that is what makes being a parent so exciting.
"I don't know what a perfect parent is or what a perfect child is but I suspect both would be extremely dull," she says. "Life is about challenge and emotion, it's about the reality of living."
Below is a selection of your comments:
"Club Penquin", "World of Warcraft" and "My Space" are the virtual worlds my childen are exposed to. The interaction with other children gives them a chance to practice social skills on a wider basis than their neighborhood peers. I think face to face interaction is also important but online play allows them to "play" with their cousins online in another city, which helps keep those relationships close too.
There are dangers anytime your child uses the web but with parental monitoring and frequent talks about what they did online the chance it will be a bad experience is lessened.
Telling them, "no, it's a dangerous place", isn't really giving them survival skills.
I agree that the "expert-driven parenting industry" will become saturated if any more programmes are made, but I have found The House of Tiny Tearaways and Supernanny a huge support in helping me develop my own parenting style by copying and then adapting the techniques shown.
Louise Mendelsohn, Tewkesbury, Glos, UK
I am 36 & a civil servant. My wife is 31 & a nurse. This year has seen delivery of our first child, our beautiful daughter, and I have to say that I have agreed entirely with everything that Tanya Byron has suggested thus far.
I find that "parenting" is indeed a natural process and we should all be encouraged to approach it as such. I have found, coupled with some snippits of advice from our modern experts, that the whole process has been a remarkably easy one. What I mean is that when common sense prevails things work well. When things are difficult it is simply part of the process of raising a tiny human and even then, despite the work involved, the rewards are almost unquantifiable.
I would suggest that Tanya Byron continues to provide her advice and support to parents, though perhaps in the light of her recent comments her message be flavoured as "take this as well founded suggestions and apply your own common sense to it as a parent."
Thank you Tanya, you are an inspiration and I have considered writing my own book based simply on the experiences of a new father... Mind you, there are a lot of them out there!
Best regards, JM
Mr J Millward, Shropshire
It's about time someone has the initiative to say "youre doing ok" as a parent. I come from a family of 10 children long before 'rule books' were written and our televisions bombarded with the right and wrong way to bring up children. Whereas the consensus is to 'discipline' 'create boundaries' 'demand respect' etc etc one thing that must never be forgotten is that we all lead by example and creating unnatural environments by making, usually, unrealistic demands on the one hand and then hypocritically do the opposite as a parent. The most blatant examples are smoking/drinking and even smacking. Parents are all too keen to stop their own kids from taking up these socially accaptable (perhaps not in the case of smoking but even this is only recent) passtimes, hobbies, habits, addictions and the like. They are all too keen to stop sibling rivalry and fighting and are then liable to hit out at the child themselves usually in anger, mostly in frustrations at their own inadequaci!
es or mirror-like childhoods. We do not live in a perfect world and neither parents or children are perfect.
Andry, Kings Lynn, Norfolk
I'm sorry that she isn't going to make any more programmes, as the ones she did make (and the books to go with them) have helped me an awful lot, much more so than any of the other parenting books I have read, and I've read a lot. I don't feel that she's left me with a lot of rules, quite the opposite in fact - the one 'rule' she has left me with is the mantra that I repeat over and over - ignore the bad behaviour, focus on the good, which is hardly a 'restrictive' rule, and has made my life and that of my children very much better. Thank you Dr. Tanya for your fantastic work, I will be forever grateful.
Thank god, a normal person!!! And even better an advisor to this government which is constantly looking to be seen doing the right thing. It can't always be right, if you are trying most of the time then thats a success!! My kids are fantastic, my son is 8 years and my daughter 4yrs and I'm still getting to grips with being a parent and all that means. Its a lifetime work of learning, they never let you stop and standstill they are on to the next stage, but how you managed the last stage is so important for how they cope, manage and enjoy and make the most of their lives.
Alex MacCalman, London
I agree with the comments about all these experts telling parents how to look after their children, sometimes as a parent you feel under loads of pressure to do things like strict 'routines' from birth and 'controlled crying' to get your kids to sleep through .. its important to go with your own feelings and do whats best for you as a family. I think the more relaxed you are (within reason) the better parent you are, its not all some big text book of right and wrong, everyone needs to muddle through in their own way!
Tanya Byron continues to be a beacon of common sense and ordinary human compassion. Hopefully she will bring these qualities to her new role. It will be all too easy to look for quick solutions - perhaps the starting point could be 'We don't know.'
Mark Graham, Bristol
At last someone who agree's that tantrums are normal - It's not easy to deal with and very embarrassing but my child is not a "problem" child nor does he have adhd or need medicating but is a normal boisterous boy.
Karen Smith, Stirling