Family breakdown and the riots: David Lammy

We mustn't fear cries of the "nanny state".

None of us is perfect but too many parents in Britain are either absent or not doing their job properly. Successive governments have backed off parenting, fearing the cries of "nanny state", but we can no longer rely on Mumsnet and Supernanny to do the job for us. Half of all parents express an interest in parenting classes. They should have access to them. Likewise, if we expect people to work long hours for low pay, can we be surprised if they are not often around to supervise their children?

We must also recognise how society has changed. We are less likely to know our neighbours and, as strangers, we hesitate to intervene when children cross the line: seven out of ten of us say that we would now walk on by if we saw a group of children vandalising a bus stop. There are fewer surrogate parents around to reinforce social boundaries. Moreover, popular culture can pull children in another direction. Children spend twice as much time in front of a TV or computer screen as they do in the classroom. It contributes to a Grand Theft Auto culture in which films, video games and popular music glamourise violence.

Because of these changes, our civic institutions matter more than ever. Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts, described its mission as being to foster a "spirit of self-negation, self-discipline, sense of humour, responsibility, helpfulness to others, loyalty and patriotism" in young people. Modern Britain needs more institutions that ground youngsters in the habits of citizenship - say, a proper, national, civic service.

David Lammy is MP for Tottenham (Labour)

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This article first appeared in the 22 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The answer to the riots?