Published:  12:50 AM, 13 August 2017

Being naughty is nothing to be ashamed of - it's a vital life skill

Being naughty is nothing to be ashamed of - it's a vital life skill 'Boys are naughtier than girls, and this remains true when they grow into adults.' Photograph: wundervisuals -Getty Images

Ican't shake my fascination with Theresa May's response to the question: "What is the naughtiest thing you ever did?" She was doubtless being sincere rather than politically strategic in saying all she could think of was that she once ran through a mildly forbidden wheatfield. There were kids like her at my school. They were usually bullied, and you can kind of see why.

I was myself up to the age of 12 an extremely well-behaved and rather timid (and bullied) child. Then I discovered naughtiness. And I really had a feast. I was a very naughty teenager (my elder brother was compulsively well-behaved, in the way elder siblings often are, while my younger brother took after me - his speciality was truancy).

I prised off street signs and dropped them down drains. When it snowed, I delighted in filling unlocked cars with it. I took any drug I could get my hands on. I hung around on street corners getting blind drunk on cheap cherry wine. And that's just the stuff I'm prepared to write down. I was pretty pathetic. On the other hand, I do think naughtiness was (and still is) sometimes the early stirrings of an independent mind, and not always a display of sullen, resentful narcissism (although for me, that was definitely a big part of it).

It can be healthy to test the boundaries, to kick against authority. Authority needs to be challenged or it becomes moribund. The definition of what is naughty, after all, is constantly changing - it wasn't so long ago that it was considered a good thing for boys to engage in a bit of recreational violence, and a girl who took on too many masculine character traits was derided as a tomboy. Not hitting back and not conforming to gender stereotypes were considered to be naughty and the rebels, in hindsight, are to be admired.

Now I have four children of my own, and they have all displayed varying degrees of naughtiness, although obviously I only know the stuff I have found out about. This, in my book, is healthy, for an entirely "good" child is probably one who is frightened, or at least, cowed.

People like Theresa May would like to stamp out naughtiness entirely. It's a characteristic typical of control freaks
Fictional heroes and heroines are always rule-breakers. This is not a coincidence. Heroes go into the unknown and explore. They take risks, not least the risk of social disapproval. As Tim Minchin wrote in the score for the musical of Roald Dahl's Matilda, "Sometimes, you have to be a little bit naughty."

Of course, naughtiness can and often does go too far. Boys are naughtier than girls, and this remains true when they grow into adults when they will commit most of the crimes. I don't know why this is but it might perhaps be worth bearing in mind the male propensity for naughtiness when designing school curricula, so they don't get too bored and seek to express their frustration in antisocial ways. As Mike Skinner of the Streets observed: "Geezers need excitement / If their lives don't provide them they incite violence."

Sport seems to be a pretty decent antidote to male naughtiness and also some kind of prophylactic against the shame of academic failure, which is also doubtless a cause of misbehaviour. I suspect people like Theresa Maywould like to stamp out naughtiness entirely. It's a characteristic typical of control freaks. May is a successful careerist, of a sort.

But I would imagine her to be, like many of her stripe, a somewhat closed-off and not fully individuated human being. Such creatures who have never pushed the boundaries of their own behaviour or tested those boundaries properly. If Theresa May had done so, she might have a better understanding of a wider society than the narrow borders of Oxfordshire where she, the vicar's daughter, was brought up, being relentlessly, unforgivingly - and finally, destructively - good.

The writer is a journalist and author The article appeared in The Guardian

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