Q: With all the rumpus about what is happening on social media, should I ask my teenage son to let me follow him on Instagram?
A: You should do more than that; you should open up a proper, and probably on-going, conversation with him about what it means to leave a digital footprint. Just this week we have seen politicians (in the United States), facing severe criticism and probably loss of their plumb jobs because of what they did at College. In those days, there was no Facebook or anything similar, and yet nowadays, anything we post can be found and used as evidence of our character, even if it happened during our youthful protests against authority. Most big employers are now tracking down applicants’ digital footprint to see what they have thought or done. There’s little place to hide these days. Of course, images of self-harm or boastful jibes about gender, colour, sexual orientation and other divisive subjects are shocking. While the social media companies take too long to tackle it from their end, we as parents and teachers have to tackle it head on at our end. If your youngster doesn’t want you to follow him, you have to ask why. And you have to explain, reasonably and sincerely, the dangers lurking for him and his friends, not only today, but in the future too.
Q: You spent some time in politics before teaching. Do you think schools should do more to generate interest amongst the next generation of voters and do you think it would help avoid the horrible mess we are in today?
A: Great and important question. When I took on the Headship of a leading London boys’ secondary school I was shocked at the poverty of political knowledge of the teenagers. They had little clue how legislation was made; what the role of both Houses of Parliament were; what benefits politics could bring to society and, much more significantly, the nature of our Constitution. If you enter adulthood not knowing that the Judiciary is independent of the Government; that MPs are not ‘delegates’ in Parliament but representatives chosen because of their wisdom and knowledge; that Government is the ‘executive’ but ultimately answerable to Parliament and the electorate, then you will not be able to properly exercise your democratic duties. Young people will be keener to participate and to learn about these things when they understand the value they bring, to everyone of us. Ancient philosopher, Socrates, was very clear. We get the politicians we as a society have created. If that’s true, then education is the way to improve it.
Q: I have just found out my 17-year-old daughter has gone onto a contraceptive pill. She has a regular boyfriend, but it worries me that she is sleeping with him. Should I tell her how I feel or just accept it?
A: It sounds as if you found this out by chance rather than her opening any kind of conversation with you about it. Yes, she can legally have sexual relations, but it is far better if she is open with you. If she hides this from you, then your mind will keep wondering what else is going on, which could be far more dangerous for her. Instead of “telling her” how you feel about it, I would suggest you take her for a coffee and open up a “friend-to-friend” conversation. You are older, more experienced, and you know about the impact on your heart of these things. Share your knowledge and encourage her to come to you with her questions or worries and doubts. She will have them. Many of the “mistakes” made by young people can simply be avoided by open communication. It may be uncomfortable at the beginning, but in the end you will have formed a bond that is one of the special gifts of family life.