The First Lady's mothering tips are perfect -- apart from one thing, says Cristina Odone
First, there was Tiger Mother. She demanded that her children learn Shakespeare's sonnets by the time they turned four and master the 13 times table by age five. Oh, and Tiger's cubs have to play the violin like Yo-Yo Ma and football like Beckham. Now, we have ObaMama. Michelle Obama, America's First Lady, has shared her parenting tips on morning television, and mothers around the world let toast burn and milk boil over as they absorbed the shock.
ObaMama's daughters aren't allowed a mobile phone of their own until age 12, and they can't go on Facebook until they're 17. Malia and Sasha are banned from watching TV and using computers (except to do homework) from Monday to Friday. Their mother has subjected them to lengthy -- and, she admits, scary -- warnings about stranger danger on the internet.
And, wait for it, the girls who obey these draconian rules are -- gulp -- 13 and 11.
There's nothing like a perfect parent to put your nose out of joint. But there's no way I could hope to introduce a regime like ObaMama's -- and live to tell the tale.
I picture trying to prize the portable computer from my nine-year-old's sweaty paws as she settles down to watch Tracy Beaker on the iPlayer: her howls of protest would have social services in before you could say "only until the weekend, darling".
I imagine telling the 16-year-old that he cannot use Facebook until next year. He'd shoot me the look of contempt that Jimmy Carr gives the taxman and cut me right down to size.
It's not that our children are particularly depraved or even rebellious. But even when studying for exams, the teenagers are Skypeing girlfriends at midnight. They spend as much time monitoring their friends' statuses on Facebook ("it's complicated") as learning the dates of the Famine.
Now, if I were ObaMama, I would clap my hands and, using a "get over here" voice, as she calls it, give them a talking to. I could threaten them with curfews and cutting their allowance. I could pack them off to a boot camp in the Rockies, or to the Irish equivalent: boarding school.
But it's all a bit pointless when their school friends carry on in exactly the same fashion. Even if I could get the children to respect the White House Code of Conduct, they'd be pariahs in the classroom. Social suicide is brought about by such omissions, Michelle.
It is one thing to expect and attain obedience in girls who have not yet woken up to the opposite sex. But try banning Facebook and mobile phones when it involves a male of the species. You'll coax, scold and lecture to no avail: there's no drowning puppy love, Mrs O. It just comes back to bite you.
I'm the first to applaud the First Lady's mothering style. I don't think it's been found wanting, it just hasn't been properly tested yet.