THERE IS one global force more powerful and dangerous than any other I know.
It changes the way our world looks, the way we think and the way we act.
It is the parent ego.
Having a child – a replication of your genes – who you can influence, mould and control is already the most narcissistic thing any of us will ever do.
When these tiny carbon copies arrive, we then justify every selfish, self-serving thing we do for the sake of our children. We even cheat in their name.
As the stakes have risen, lies and misrepresentation are now just seen as what you have to do to put your child ahead of everyone else’s.
Take the number of council investigations into parents fraudulently trying to get their children into schools by using false addresses or lying about their religion. It has rocketed elevenfold over the last five years alone.
At the same time, the number of parents who lodged claims that their children were ill with ailments such as hay-fever and headaches – during their A levels and GSCE exams in order to get marks added has gone up by a suspiciously large amount over the same period – no less than twenty per cent .
At work, we also behave more ruthlessly in the name of providing for our children because ours must come first at the expense of everyone else’s. My husband and I have a good friend who tried to swindle his business partner. “I have kids You don’t. I have to provide for mine,” was his unapologetic justification.
Every day on the roads of London I see “my kids come first” thinking visibly displayed when I have to sit in traffic behind the growing number of number of 4 by 4s affluent parents buy to ferry their own little darlings between extra-curricular activities in comfort.
Of course this turns a blind eye to the fact that anyone else’s child is considerable more likely to die in an impact with one of these monster tanks – let alone that no one can get anywhere because they clog up the streets.
But as I point out in my new book Taming the Tiger Parent, this is a much bigger issue than the spoiling of a few children by some well-off parents.
No doubt the contractors who are chopping down the Amazon rain forest also do so in the name of putting food on the table for their offspring.
It is this short-term justification which helps close their minds off from considering the long-term impact of chopping down swathes of the forests which are no less than the lungs of the Earth.
Competitive parenting has even played its part in modern warfare. Although he was not a parent himself, Hitler styled himself a father to a nation determined to create the most élite and most beautiful children on Earth, the Hitler Youth.
But our children do not ask to be born. Nor do they ask to be come into a world where they will be used as pawns in a giant chess game of battling parent egos.
As the parenting writer Pamela Druckerman pointed out in column for the New York Times last week: “I used to think that only Americans and Brits did helicopter parenting. In fact, it’s now a global trend. Middle-class Brazilians, Chileans, Germans, Poles, Israelis, Russians and others have adopted versions of it too.”
Indeed as Pamela is realising, pushy parenting has been global for some time.
The Kumon method, that global blight on children’s free time, was invented sixty years ago by an anxious father called Toru Kumon, who was looking for a way for his son to catch up when he got a bad mark on his maths test. His motivation? His fear that he looked bad because his neighbour’s kids were doing better at Maths.
Now it’s a vast global franchise. It is inflicting repetitive, one-size-fits-all rote-learning on more than four million children across dozens of countries across the world.
Indeed Japan could be considered the crucible of pushy parenting. There mothers have been known to kill children who win nursery places that their own youngsters failed to get.
One such killing was the murder of two-year-old Haruna Wakayama who was lured away from a playground in Toyko 13 years ago and strangled with her own scarf by thwarted parent Mitsuko Yamada.
Yamada was quoted saying she killed the child because she could not live with the constant reminder that her own daughter had been rejected by the institution, explaining: “My daughter hasn’t been doing well recently. It hurt me just to look at Haruna.”
Of course looking at some of the press coverage of my book, you might get the impression that Taming the Tiger Parent is only about my personal struggle to tame my own competitive instincts.
Far from it. But how everyone loves to castigate a mother who admits to some mistakes. After all, it makes everyone else feel better about their parenting, doesn’t it. There goes that marauding parent ego again.
The point I am making is far bigger than that. The question I am posing is this: in order to win at parenting, does everyone else’s child have to fail?
With global challenges like climate change, terrorism and over-population, we need to raise our sons and daughters on better principles than the need to beat everyone in their class, or for their school to beat every other in the borough, or their nation to defeat every other country on Earth.
By behaving like it’s every parent for himself out there – and passing on this toxic lesson to our children – all we are doing is making the world a very lonely place for them to grow up in.
Taming the Tiger Parent: How to put your child’s well-being first in a competitive world is published by Constable/Little Brown and is available from the Idler bookshop (see right). For more on Tanith, go to www.tanithcarey.com.