Miércoles 19 de Abril de 2006, Ip nº 149

Plugging in the don't-DIY teens
Por Sian Griffiths

The survey last week that revealed that today’s youngsters are a DIY disaster-zone, fumbling with sewing, clueless at changing a plug and stumped by the notion of unblocking a U-bend, struck a chord with parents nationwide.

Like many other mums and dads, I felt guilty at the findings, not least because this hapless generation is racked by inadequacy at its lack of skills. A quarter of the 3,000 under-30s interviewed could not sew a hem, a third would struggle to unblock a drain and wallpapering flummoxed half of them.

Not only did they spend an average £1,700 a year buying their way out of domestic difficulty after leaving home, one in five blamed their deficiencies on their parents’ failure to teach them how to do simple practical tasks in the first place.

I’d love to say that my teenagers are the exception to these depressing statistics. But I’d probably be deluding myself, at least judging by a quick quiz last week of my daughter, Elen, 16.

Out of three simple tasks — sewing on a button, wiring a plug and unblocking a sink, Elen could attempt the first, was taught the theory of the second in her science lessons (“You use one of those tools, what do you call them? A screwdriver?”) and proclaimed herself stymied by the third.

When children strike out for independent life such skills can be sorely needed. Having spent a few days without her parents recently, Elen’s friend Bona, 16, soon discovered, as she puts it, “the limits to my knowledge”.

For a start she had to grapple with a washing machine. “I knew not to mix the colours and the whites because of that Friends episode where Rachel puts in both — result, disaster!” she says. “But I don’t know what temperature to wash each one on. Are colours washed hotter than whites?” If she had to bleed a radiator in her home, would she know what to do? “Excuse me? Why would you want to bleed a radiator?” she asks.
We all smile. Then Elen points out that it’s my fault my daughter can’t tackle all the domestic tasks that she may come across when she leaves home. I simply haven’t taken the time to teach her.

It’s a similar story in the London home of Clare Paterson, a television producer. She realised when her youngest son Ben, now 12, was 10 years old that “all three of my children were pretty incompetent: I had been doing them no favours by always doing everything”.

The moment of truth came when Paterson suggested that Ben make his favourite meal of tinned tomato soup with a hard-boiled egg in it.

“After establishing how to turn on the hob, he heated the soup in a pan, then took an egg and dropped it, shell and all, into the soup. Alarm bells rang,” says Paterson.

With her oldest son, Nicholas, just a couple of years away from leaving for university, she decided action was overdue.

“I’d been making a programme called Trust Me, I’m a Teenager, where kids take over the running of the house,” says Paterson. “So I’d seen a few examples of teenagers not knowing what on earth they were up to.

“I also knew some youngsters who had left home whose incompetence made them feel vulnerable.”

Paterson drew up a list of things she expected her children to tackle — from how to mend a puncture to how to unblock the toilet — and set about teaching them.

The result was not only three more practical children but a book to be published next week. Along with a quiz designed to highlight the gaps in your child’s knowledge, Grow Up! includes a list of tasks plus advice on completing them. By seven, for instance, children should be able to make their sandwiches. By 10 they should be helping change the bed, by 12 use a screwdriver and by 13 be a dab hand at cleaning the U bend.

“Start them young,” advises Paterson, who admits that she left it late with her two boys and is determined not to make the same mistake with seven-year-old Kate.

But how have we reared a “throwaway” generation of DIY-dunces who think anything broken should be replaced by new? Most parents are zealous at making sure children do their homework, so why haven’t we also passed on the traditional skills our parents diligently showed us? Paterson thinks it’s partly down to guilt among working parents, which means that you never want to make your child do anything vaguely boring during the precious quality time you spend with them.

“My mum taught me all the stuff I know,” says Paterson. “She was a single parent who had lodgers staying in the house: we all mucked in and through helping we learnt how to do things. My own children have been more mollycoddled.”

But John Shute, who has been running sessions in London schools to teach children financial acumen, says parents shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. He spent hours showing his two boys how to use tools, even stripping down a car engine on his kitchen table. Yet,while both his sons can mend a bike puncture, says Shute, one is more practical than the other. He believes that being a DIY-er is partly a matter of temperament.

Perhaps the last word should go to Nicholas, nearly 16, who is given space in Grow Up! to report on the results of his mum’s efforts. When he leaves home, he muses, “I can’t see myself ever sewing on a button . . . (but then) I suppose I could always ring home, which will make mum feel needed.”

What your child should be able to do, writes Clare Paterson:

By the age of 7: make their sandwiches, lay the table and wash up.

By 10: help you change the bed and operate the dishwasher.

By 13: cook a meal, change a fuse and bleed a radiator.

By 14: use the washing machine, sew a hem or a button, clean out a U bend and change a lightbulb.

  16/04/2006. Times Online.