This is the story of how I came to play the clarinet. Bear with me, I appreciate that's a less than scintillating start.

At primary school I was allocated a tenor horn. We had the option of the recorder, which I played also, and a brass instrument, but there was no choice - you were just given what was currently going unused in the understocked instrument cupboard.

I wouldn't say I hated the horn but it was cumbersome and seemed, at a time when gender roles were more rigidly enforced, not girlish. To play it, the thing demanded to be embraced and one had to regularly press a little valve that freed spit to pour out and puddle at your feet.

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The other two brass students played the cornet and oh, how I wished I had arrived earlier when there was a choice to be had. Both those girls were popular and so I associated the cornet with being cool.

In first year of high school I went to the music department and asked to learn the cornet. "The clarinet?" the music teacher replied. I'd never heard of a clarinet before but I hated to contradict an adult. She produced a little box and started taking out stunted tubes, fitting them together to create a one long black and silver piece that would go on to torture my neighbours for the next six years.

I offer this as a mild example of why obedience is a poor trait to harvest in children. It makes adults' lives far easier but sees children, compliant and pliant, end up in unhappy scrapes - lighthearted or otherwise.

Obedience, as a character trait, taught or otherwise, is horribly outdated. Thankfully, British adults, according to the latest World Values Survey, which questions adults of all ages in 24 countries, no longer highly prize children merely doing as they're told. In 1990 some 40% said they cared about obedience - that figure has fallen to 12%.

Sweden and Japan value it less but otherwise we're at the bottom of the table.

Remaining constant, however, are feelings about both good manners (85% feel this is important) and not being selfish. The modern parent now values independence, hard work and imagination above the qualities described by adults 30 years ago.

Researchers believe this mirrors a trend in the UK becoming more liberal, individualistic and valuing self-expression.

The view of the importance of children being taught religious faith at home fell from 23% to just 9% while the value of teaching young people thrift - a trait that should be far more admired - fell in importance from 26% to 19%.

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The UK, Sweden and Japan also sit at the bottom of the table for believing children should look after elderly relatives so we're not keen on obedience at any point, it seems, cradle to grave.

The qualities we want to see in our children - an increase in imagination and a decrease in obedience - reflect where we are as a society in that we have liberalised and begun to see children as people, rather than as seen-and-not-heard short inconveniences.

But we don't want to raise selfish brats who turn into self-centred adults because, of course, there's a line between eschewing obedience and encouraging disobedience. Which is probably where encouraging selflessness and manners comes in. Like Bartleby the scrivener, one can politely decline to go alone with one's orders without causing a ruckus. (Just don't go as far as Bartleby in his fatal passive resistance: middle ground always).

A thirst for obedience is the sort of drive that makes people call for bringing back the birch or lament that kids these days are out of control.

We know now, though, that good manners are the route to good behaviour, not obedience. Today's parents still want polite, well behaved children. They just don't want rule followers and blind obsequience, they want analytical kids who can think through issues and come up with the morally correct way to proceed.

This is parental progress. Take it from someone whose default mode is compliance - it's a terrible way to live. (Yes, I still play the clarinet) I'm glad we're raising rule breakers, thoughtful ones. Society will be better for it.