Here is a taste of Hutch’s columns. If you want more, you can always buy his books.
1. I’d Diet for my Country
2. Creativity and Open-Heart Surgery
3. Immutable Laws of Holidays
4. Futile Bureaucracy
5. P-E-T-E-R
6. From Cradle to Criminal
7. Pestilence and Doom
8. Christmas Cards

A mate of mine...

A mate of mine reckons there’s something wrong with a society that places more responsibility on its people to keep their animals under control than it does to keep their children on the straight and narrow.

If you lose track of your dog and it gets loose and bites the postman - it's your fault. You will be prosecuted and the dog will probably be put down. However, if you lose track of your child and it gets loose and kills, say, a Pizza delivery -man you can escape responsibility by blaming the education system, the justice system, or CYFs. If that fails, invoking the Treaty of Waitangi has proven to be a handy back-up.

Inevitably a wet politician or a hand- wringing spokesperson from the Department of Social Engineering will sympathise with you and tell the newspapers it would never have happened had money been spent on hiring more hand-wringers to take over the parenting job for you. After all the State is now the major breadwinner in the homes of almost one third of New Zealand's children.

Some of us can recall a time when there weren't quite so many hand-wringers, but that was also a time when personal responsibility was fashionable and more parents took their nurturing tasks seriously. The trouble is nurturing takes compassion and institutions can never be compassionate.

It's obvious to anyone with an IQ north of a piece of driftwood that something is seriously awry with the way we are allowing our children to be brought up.

But it's not the behaviour of children we need to change; it's the behaviour of parents. Unfortunately the government is only adept at providing ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. Think of all the ambulance -driving bureaucrats who'd lose their jobs if something radical like building a fence at the top were suggested.

Sadly it doesn’t take any special skill to have children, in fact those with the least skills are often the most prolific breeders. A profound if somewhat cynical observer once noted that you can make children out of stuff lying around the house, or on the back seat of a car.

And talking of cars, most of us spend more on driving lessons than we do on parenting skills, but the people who need both lessons the most don’t seem to spend much money on either. Despite what the sentimentalists tell us, not every child is a blessing. They should be, but they ain't.

Our country has a social welfare web that cushions citizens from the consequences of their actions. The state actually rewards mothers for breeding, regardless of their capacity to successfully launch a new life into the world. Similarly, young men are able to skip their paternal responsibilities knowing the state will cover for them. Unfortunately, many see babies as biological - toys, providing immature parents with the unconditional love they might never have received themselves. For them, the magic of child rearing soon fades and many unfortunate children are left to grow up as free-range social vandals.

What ever happened to parental responsibility?

For decades, well-meaning social engineers, recognising the changing nature of family arrangements, and pressured by a feminist agenda, have managed to officially deconstruct the paternalistic nuclear family. So far, so good. Unfortunately no one realised the importance of traditional parenting. Evidence of the social cost of fatherless families is now overwhelming. That’s not to say solo-parents (or sole parents if you're PC) can't rear respectable and respectful children, it's just that their task is many, many, times harder.

Numbers, such as the fact that almost two thirds of offences in one Police Zone were committed by children living away from their birth father, even though they made up less than 20% of households, are now well known.

Bringing up kids isn't easy for two parents, let alone one. It takes compassion and care. Sometimes the emotional investment is almost too much to bear. If kids get sick, or teased and bullied at school, if they fail a test, or don’t reach a goal they’ve set themselves, when they have their hearts broken as they inevitably do, you feel every twinge of their anguish. It can be as tough on the parents as it can be on the child. They're our link to the future. To see them grow and be happy, achieve their aspirations and try and turn their corners of the world into better places makes it all worthwhile.

But it's hard work. Whoever wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes was right. To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. Sometimes you have to cuddle children, sometimes you have to shout at them, sometimes cajole, sometime s congratulate, sometimes inspire, sometimes tweak the little bugger's ears when they're being absolute toe-rags.

I, for one, felt like a changed man after reading about some kids who killed a pizza delivery man. We can only extract understanding of life by applying some thinking to it.

By writing about it I got my thoughts together. So, for a few hours, I held the crayons for life's colouring book. I tried to apply each colour carefully, to compose a coherent picture rather than the angry, abstract daub rage would produce.

The image wasn’t clear when I started but after a time the word VALUES appeared, in capital letters.

Once again I was fired by my mate's observation. Life is made pointless by passivity. We numbly read horrific news, swallowing information such as "man killed by teens " without allowing our reactions to become manifest beyond internal rage. Unfortunately most anti-social acts don't cause us to ask the questions that will generate the response they deserve.

It seems to me that many of our kids are growing up without a values framework around which to build their lives. And I'm not moralising here. I'm not talking religious based morality. You can build a system of morality without God.

Nor am I saying all moral codes have equal value. They plainly don’t. But there's one universal code. It's called the Golden Rule. It pre-existed every monotheistic religious movement and is common to all humanity. It's about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. We shouldn’t tolerate anything else.

On the other hand, while many kids don’t have a sound values system, we seem to be ruining the rest by sanitising their world. By removing obstacles and challenges we have diminished their urge to strive. By cocooning them we have made them soft. By making it too easy for them as children we have made it too hard for them as adults. By not establishing clear boundaries and expectations for them we have bred generations of hedonistic binge drinkers. When they get out into the real world they find it’s a tougher place than we ever taught them.

Are we surprised that we are struggling to win many international sporting events?

In our kindness we have become cruel. Too much positive reinforcement and not enough negative reinforcement have taught our children that mediocrity is acceptable. Erroneously they think that doing their best makes them winners. They are more preoccupied with self-esteem and self-indulgence than with selflessness.

They are quickly going to learn that, sometimes, even their best isn’t good enough. How are their delicate psyches going to cope with the shock of finding out others in the world are manifestly better than they are at some things, despite what their teachers have told them.

In our clean little country with no natural predators, we have raised our children in such a way that they are often unable to cope in a world that can be both predatory and harsh. No wonder we have a relatively high rate of youth suicide.

We have become a society that rewards failure, not success. We’ve taught our kids how to hug the trees but not how to climb them. Our kids are taught its OK to fail by not even trying, as opposed to falling short in a valiant attempt.

I thought the search for Utopia had long since died but apparently it's still alive and well in the minds of some social planners. My mate reckons we are hard wired for healthy tension, conflict and a bit of aggro. The only place where they don't exist is Disneyland, or the big Rock Candy Mountain.

I'm rather fond of this quote from The Third Man, by Graham Greene. "In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce. The cuckoo clock."

But I digress.

The fact is, beyond the age of 12 or 13, children’s peers seem to have more influence than do parents.

My mate did some research and reckons refrigeration technology is the major cause of this disconnection and the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

His logic goes like this. In the past mealtime was an important family event. Good manners were taught at the dinner table. The average time spent preparing a meal in the early part of the 20th Century was two and a half-hours. The meal was made from ingredients that took time to prepare. Dry or raw ingredients were inedible until they came together in a pot or on a plate. Mealtime was an important family occasion for the imparting of values, wisdom, sharing conversation, or providing lessons in manners.

The fridge-freezer changed everything.

Nowadays, meal preparation takes an average of half an hour. Most of that time taken up with defrosting. So it seems to be no big deal if children don’t hang around to savour the result and fail to ask nicely if they can leave the table. Prepaid cell-phones have replaced precious family debates, and even more heinously, kids hold their knives like pencils and lean their elbows on the table. They have probably spent the day at the fridge with their friends anyway, grazing on pre-prepared foods or snacks in a range of colours and flavours. To them there are only three food groups. Coca Cola, Cheezels and hamburgers.

So where is all this going? Back to parental responsibility and stronger legislation to enforce it. Parenting is a 24/7 job. It should only be done by individuals who care. It's worth repeating the profound insight I heard from a Polynesian office cleaner. She said all you need in life is something to do, something to look forward to, and someone to love.

So next time you hear someone shifting blame by saying the system has failed them, you'll know why. The system didn't teach them values, only dependence.

The Magazine Awards

Business Columnist of the Year 2012

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