Comments by a Nelson school principal about an overblown sense of entitlement among young people have touched one of New Zealand’s most sensitive nerves.
A favourite Kiwi debating point over the years has been the extent to which youth kicking against boundaries should be tolerated or restrained.
The latter course was favoured by the report of the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents, chaired by Oswald Mazengarb, QC, in the 1950s.
This report blamed a lack of parental supervision for juvenile delinquency and advocated a return to Christianity and traditional values.
Historians have noted that a copy of the report was delivered to every home in the country.
But now the shoe seems to be on the other foot.
A Napier schoolgirl recently took to social media to criticise what she saw as the delinquency of her teachers and of the school system.
And far from returning to traditional values, these days the backing from some parents for their youngsters flouting school rules and practices is arguably fostering a sense of entitlement.
Nelson College headmaster Gary O’Shea told media that this is becoming a problem.
Mr O’Shea defined a growing student sense of entitlement as the “belief that what they want to happen needs to happen because I say so, also because of the ease of social media there is no need to have any dialogue beforehand”.
His comments came shortly after media reports that the Government, principals and Crown Law are working together to draw up legal advice for schools faced by parents hiring lawyers.
Such parents are evidently threatening schools with injunctions if their off spring are overlooked for sports teams or school musicals.
Two Catholic schools have featured in such controversies in recent times, with courts granting injunctions over a haircut and a rowing competition.
At the nub of the issue is the demarcation of the respective authorities of the parents — on behalf of their children — and schools.
In one particular area, however, the law favours the school — and health providers — and the students over the parents. That is in the vexed question of parental notification if a student is to have an abortion.
But in the broader sense, while school rules are there for a reason, maybe inspiration needs to be alongside expectation for students.
There are shining examples of young people who are not wrapped up in a cocoon of “what I want”. Take the example of 2012 New Zealander of the Year Sam Johnson, the inspiration behind the Student Army, which pitched in after the Christchurch earthquakes.
In Catholic schools, many young people take time to help those less fortunate through Young Vinnies groups.
These are just a few of the many examples of young people who could be held up as true role model
“revolutionaries” to their peers, as against those who flout the rules merely out of a sense of entitlement.
As Pope Francis said on the final day of World Youth Day at Rio de Janeiro in 2013: “Yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporal and ultimately thinks you are incapable of responsibility, incapable of true love. I am confident in you, and I pray for you. Have the courage to swim against the tide!”