Thursday, 15 February 2007

Kids these days Last night, not late, in a restaurant I observed a boy of about three or four sat at a dinner table with his parents. The moment the child was sat down, a laptop was placed in front of him with some animated feature for instant distraction. Next time I looked round, the scene that I had anticipated was being enacted: dad was on the mobile phone, a call that lasted at least ten minutes, the toddler had a dummy stuck in his mouth, just in case he was so rash as to want to try and communicate, and mum studied the wallpaper. Oh look, here's Libby Brooks in today's Guardian: New Labour has pandered to popular prejudice with its antisocial behaviour agenda, as well as legitimising adult avoidance of collective involvement in the socialisation of children. Additionally, over recent decades this country has become infected with a culture of individualism and materialism that has proved disastrous for children and parents. The values of parenting are in direct opposition to those that currently dominate society - the modern absolutes of autonomy, freedom and selfhood. [Emphasis added] This is à propos of that Unicef report - which apparently demonstrates how cruddy British people are at relating to and looking after their children. What strikes me is that, while we've had commentators who have challenged the report's methodology and currency of data, there are few voices if any to deny the overall message for the UK, which seems to be this: the way we regard, refer to, treat and support children in this country is a disgrace and has been for a long time. I too might find minor fault with the report (indeed the authors make various caveats as they go along). I'm not sure for instance about the way the index for children's relationships has been constructed to include such a strong emphasis on percentage of children living in single-parent families and stepfamilies. But the study uses children’s own answers to survey questions and the findings on 11, 13 and 15 year-olds who report finding their peers ‘kind and helpful’ are, in the case of the UK (less than 45%), devastating. This is not to say that there are not many super young people growing up who are a pleasure to meet and talk to, with strong supportive networks and a confident outlook: they're the fortunate ones who've escaped the relentless, systematised dumbing and drubbing and confidence erosion, through policy, media, education system and culture. This is an issue of exclusion. Too many young people in this country are excluded from any kind of sustained supportive context - which is not just the responsibility of parents (the key target of the JKG, the Jerked Knee of Government) but of what I call the 'four sources' of support: family, friends, neighbours, and formal services. For any individual in our society of whatever age, where one of those four sources is insufficient, it ought to be relatively easy for the vacuum to be...

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