Written by James Thomas on Monday June 17, 2013
When I’m not editing inCOMPLIANCE (ICA's quarterly journal for members) I spend a fair amount of my spare time watching small children terrorize each other in playgrounds, not because I particularly enjoy doing so, but because as the father of a three-year-old it comes with the territory.
People often say that the playground presents a microcosm of society, with all the conflict and drama of the “real” world acted out in miniature. The idea is that you can learn a lot about human nature by watching humanity in its most uninhibited, undiluted form... “out of the mouths of babes” and all that. But in these situations I actually find it just as interesting to watch the parents, and the approach they take to supervising and supporting their kids while they play (or not).
And if you ever do this, you’ll notice a broad spectrum of parenting styles, with two stereotypes at each extreme:
(1) The “hands on” parent. These parents might be described as “vigilant”, or “actively engaged”... or “overprotective”. They’re watching their kids at play, sometimes joining in, sometimes intervening. A fan of this style would call it “supportive”. A critic would say it’s “stifling”.
(2) The “hands off” parents. These are the parents who “just let their kids get on with it”. A fan of this style of parenting would say it “prepares the kids for the ‘real’ world” or “gives them the freedom to express themselves”. A critic would say that these parents “couldn’t care less” either about their kids or any other users of the playground.
I’ve painted two extremes there, but to be frank I’ve found that the majority of parents seem to lie at one end of the scale or the other.
But what is the “right” approach to take? I’m not about to pretend to have all the answers (and if I’m honest I probably err more towards the “hands on” approach than I’d like) but it seems to me that some balance has to be struck between, on the one hand, allowing kids to think and act for themselves and, on the other hand, instilling the knowledge and values in those kids that enable them to think and act for themselves appropriately, safely, and with consideration for the children that they are sharing the playground with.
As much as we want our kids to be adventurous, outgoing, and to enjoy life, we also have to admit that it’s our responsibility to give them the tools to do so. Just as excessively “hands on” parenting might result in kids who follow the rules without seeing the reasoning behind them, so too “hands off” parenting risks both rules and reasoning going out the window.
So what on earth does this have to do with compliance? Well, in many ways you could replace the “playground” with “the marketplace”; the “kids” with “regulated firms”; and the “parents” with “CEOs” or “Chief Compliance Officers”. My suggestion is that a playground doesn’t offer a genuine picture of the world in miniature if the role of parents is ignored. By the same token there’s no way that the behaviour of regulated entities can be understood without looking at the role of the CEOs and senior management, and whether that role is “hands on”, “hands off” or somewhere in between.
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