Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Miserable Children Surrounded By Toys

A very blunt piece from the BBC's Mark Easton, on the recent Unicef report into children's quality of life.

Unicef paints a picture of a country that has got its priorities wrong - trading quality time with our children for "cupboards full of expensive toys that aren't used".

"Parents in the UK want to be good parents, but aren't sure how," the research suggests. "They feel they don't have the time, and sometimes the knowledge, and often try to compensate for this by buying their children gadgets and clothes."

The research compares Britain with Sweden and Spain. While the UK languishes in 21st, and last, place in the child well-being table, they come second and fifth respectively.

The report argues that the pressure of the working environment and rampant materialism combine to damage the well-being of our children. They want our attention but we give them our money.

"All children interviewed said that material goods did not make them happy, but materialism in the UK seems to be just as much of a problem for parents as children," the research concludes. "Parents in the UK often feel compelled to purchase consumer goods which are often neither wanted or treasured."

It is a profoundly depressing analysis of British life, not least because it rings true.

The importance of parents devoting energy and love to the rearing of their children is accepted by political leaders from across the spectrum, but maximising income and encouraging consumption are regarded as vital components for economic growth.

In the UK, the demands of the latter often undermine the former.

Parents work all hours to increase family income but then are too exhausted or too busy to give their children the attention they need and deserve.

More on the report here, and here's the report itself. It's worth a read, there are plenty of uncomfortable home truths. Page 26 is simply frightening.

The solution has got to go beyond banning advertising aimed at children. There are lots of factors here. Notable in the report above is the loss of confidence among parents. We're desperate to do a good job but we no longer know what a good job is. Parents seem to lack the confidence to identify a set of values and stick to them, which isn't surprising, as we no longer have any framework of accepted social values.

There are all sorts of other factors too: we're propping up the league tables on families that eat together: that's partly about planning policy (many new properties no longer have a separate eating area, or are just too small), partly about the structure of work (the drive to a 24/7 society, shift work, Sunday working, and rising housing costs forcing parents into work and kids into childcare).

Possibly most concerning, is that the shape of youth culture in the UK is on a massively different trajectory to anywhere else in Europe. Less than half of our 11-15 year olds find their peers 'kind and helpful', and we are almost off the scale when it comes to 'risk taking behaviours' - ie smoking, underage sex, poor eating habits etc. Many of our teenagers are miserable, rude, confused, desperate to be happy but clueless in how to be happy because their parents don't know either. After all, we thought that what would make us happy was having those children in the first place.....

This is all a bit broad-brush, but for goodness sake lets start debating this stuff, and working out what to do about it.

The riots were the tip of an iceberg, this is the iceberg.

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