Mal Fletcher
Children As Parents - Baby Maisie, Celebrity Culture and Fewer Marriages.

Two children, aged 13 and 15, have become parents in a story that is now receiving maximum exposure across the British media. Baby Maisie was born to Alfie and Chantelle, who claim that they are in love and happy to take responsibility to raise their child.

Perhaps there are unexpected links between this sad story, set in a relatively poor housing estate, and two other reports that emerged last week.

In one, Jade Goody, the former reality-TV contestant, announced that she has agreed to sell photographs of her last months of life to the media. Having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, she says that she needs the money for the future support of her children.

At the moment, photos of Ms Goody look relatively normal, but that won't be the case for long. The last stages of terminal cancer are not "a pretty picture". She may feel that her motives are pure; she may feel she has no the options when it comes to leaving something for offspring.

If that's the case, sad to say, I can't help feeling that Ms Goody's exposure to celebrity culture has distorted her ability to see clearly and make wise choices. I feel for her. And in an age of credit crunches and recessions, where hope is at a premium, perhaps the last thing people need are images like these.

In the case of baby Maisie, we can only wonder how much the lure of the same celebrity culture is playing on the minds of all involved as they tell their stories to the press.

It is doubtful that the media would have known about the story at all had those close to it not taken their account to a tabloid newspaper.

Now that the story is out, though, there is little they can do to control it. They're quickly finding that if you take this particular snake by the tail it can still turn to bite you.

Already, spin-off stories are emerging, like the one in which other local boys have claimed that they may well be the father of Maisie. Once again, we see how quickly a potentially devastating human story can be turned into a three-ring circus, a Jerry Springer show waiting to happen.

Whether little Maisie's extended family will admit it or not, the entire saga holds great potential for future tragedy. Raising a child in such unusual circumstances will inevitably put strains on two families that are already doing it tough.

Maisie's parents may be all smiles right now, but we all know how short-sighted teenagers can be. What will happen to Maisie when Chantelle wants to "have a life" as a young woman? Or when Alfie decides that he really doesn't love Chantelle. After all, he is too young to know what that kind of love is, or what it demands of us.

For most people in their early teens, it's difficult to think beyond next Friday; much less ten or fifteen years from now! Yet, that's exactly the kind of foresight we need when we decide to take on the responsibilities of parenthood.

And what of Maisie's future when it comes to the press? In ten or fifteen years' time, a hungry journalist or editor, in search of a great feature story, might beat a path to Maisie's door.

When that happens -- as it surely will -- the whole sorry saga will be brought to life again. This time, though, it will be a teenager named Maisie who will have to face the music.

Perhaps it's also no coincidence that the Maisie story emerged in the same week as another which announced that married people are now a minority group in Britain. For the first time ever, there are now more single people and unmarried couples than married couples in Britain.

This is where there is, I think, a genuine public interest in telling Maisie's story. It raises the vexed question of how accountable parents should be for the behaviour of their children.

We all know that parenting is a tough job and it's impossible to keep an eye on your teenagers every moment of the day.

But that is no excuse for letting them do as they please, on the assumption that they will exercise good judgement or adult sensibilities -- which are most often beyond them.

Could there be a link between the redefining -- others might call it a weakening -- of traditional family values and a general loss of respect for the responsibility that comes with parenting?

We seem to have shifted from a place where parents have ultimate responsibility for their children to a place where everyone but the parents is responsible.

And as a culture we seem to be making it more difficult for parents to teach positive values to their kids. If you've seen some of the movies gaining a "15" rating these days, you might ask: how can we expect teenagers, surrounded by so many highly sexualised images, to demonstrate wisdom and self-control when it comes to their sexuality?

What signals are we sending to the next generation about taking responsibility for their sexual behaviour?

Many studies have shown that teenagers have a great propensity for "copycat behaviour", especially when a certain behaviour received a lot of attention. As long as the story of Maisie remains alive, we will see other Alfies and Chantelles.

Some will follow their lead because they think it makes them look adult; some because of the attention it brings. Others may do it because they think there is money to be made -- from social services, or media exposure.

In the end, of course, everyone loses - most especially the innocents, like Maisie.

Copyright, Mal Fletcher 2009.

Click here to hear/download Mal's radio interview on this story.

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

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