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Scots Headteacher suggests “soft touch” parenting to blame for mental health issue rise

A SCOTS private school headteacher has suggested that “soft touch” parenting is to blame for an increase in mental health issues amongst youngsters. 

Rod Grant, head of £13,000-per year at Clifton Hall School in Edinburgh, said that as a society, parents are “too soft, too forgiving” and “too quick to apportion blame elsewhere”.

The 57-year-old suggests a tougher approach where parents stand back, allow children to fail and let them build up resilience.

Rod Grant
Rod Grant, headmaster of Clifton Hall School.

Mr Grant said that being too soft on youngsters may have a direct impact on the rise of anxiety, depression and self harming for children. 

But added that he acknowledges that the “alarming” increase in mental health issues amongst pupils is not entirely due to softer approach parenting.

Mr Grant made the comments on Facebook on Wednesday.

Clifton Hall School
Clifton Hall School.

He wrote: “It’s not easy being a parent. We want the very best for our children. 

“We want to provide them with some of the things that we didn’t get when we were young. This is a natural instinct, but I think it’s also a dangerous one.

“There is no question that we are seeing an alarming percentage increase in those who self-harm or who suffer from anxiety, depression and other stress-related illnesses.

“However, these increases were occurring long before the pandemic – the pandemic has simply brought them into even sharper focus.

“There is a growing body of evidence, which suggests that we’re making our children’s lives too comfortable, too safe, too clinical and too protected. 

“We hate seeing them cry, we hate seeing them suffer even small setbacks and we do all that we can to avoid them failing. By doing these things, we are actually failing them. 

“We are not preparing our young for a world that is tough. We are not preparing them to strive against adversity. We are not allowing them to develop resilience.

Clifton Hall School
Clifton Hall School.

“As a society, we have all fallen into the trap of ‘comfort’. And now, we are paying the price. And it’s not just children. 

“Adults themselves are becoming ever more plagued by anxiety, stress, obesity, chronic fatigue or pain and a myriad of other debilitating effects.

“I’m not suggesting no love. I’m suggesting grown-up, common sense, thinking ahead to the future, and love. 

“That’s what my parents gave me and thank God they did.”

He continued: “It’s a hard message to hear but, for once, I think I’m right. Actually, I think I’ve nailed it. 

“We’re too soft, we’re too forgiving, we’re too quick to apportion blame elsewhere. 

‘We need to back off, allow kids to fail, allow kids to build up resilience, allow kids to understand that life isn’t always easy. 

“If we don’t, we’ll end up with adults that cannot cope with adversity, who require support when facing any obstacle that comes in their way and they will fail to succeed. And it will be our fault.”

Mr Grant also shared a story about his childhood where his parents’ “tough love” approach worked.

He said: “In 1981, as a cocky, self-assured teenager, I took nine O-Levels. I strolled into the Headmaster’s office to hear my results from him some three months later, feeling self-satisfied. ‘Grant,’ he said, ‘I think we can safely say that you have failed miserably to meet the moderate expectations we already held for you. 

“‘You have achieved, if that is a phrase that accurately describes your performance, 4 passes and 5 fails.’

“I left his office deflated, punctured, wounded and my self-esteem plummeted. 

“In such circumstances, I immediately wanted to speak to my mum and dad. I knew that they would offer me comfort, a shoulder to cry on and allow my excuses to soothe those pitiful examination results.

“Mum: ‘Well, you obviously didn’t work hard enough. Serves you right.’

“Dad: ‘You might as well leave school and come into the business. 4 a.m. starts, mind you.’

“These simple responses catapulted me into achieving six Highers the following year.”

Mr Grant’s post received almost 200 likes and dozens of comments from parents who mainly agreed with his message.

Diana Herriot said: “Thank you Rod for having the courage to say the above – tough love is hard however the rewards are immeasurable.”

Comment on Facebook
A comment on Mr Grant’s Facebook post.

Sarah Gibb wrote: “Totally agree.

“I heard ‘we now teach our children their rights but not their responsibilities’. 

“Both are needed. Being responsible & accountable builds inner strength that is so important for mental health.”

Michelle Abbas said: “Grant, you seriously need to write a guide to parenting. 

“So many parents need to realise this, we are creating a generation of wet drips who are offended by everything and take no responsibility for their actions.

“It’s everyone else’s fault, we aren’t teaching them their responsibility. Well said.”

But Simon Appleyard responded: “While I do agree with much of your sentiment we also have to recognise that the systems we had in the past failed many children. 

“They tended to make assumptions about how children should operate and struggled to deal with those who fell outside those parameters. 

“Some of those kids will have gone on to overcome those challenges but others perhaps have never fulfilled their potential. 

“Our aspiration should be to create a climate where every child can go on to fulfil as much of their potential as possible. 

“For some that will be through tough love and for others that need a different, more supportive environment. 

“The challenge, of course, is knowing which is which and unfortunately we often only become truly aware of that in hindsight.”

A quarter of Scots parents now say that academic pressures and exams cause their children stress. 

It has also been found that 58% of young people feel fear of making mistakes has caused them to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope.

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