Sunday, November 13, 2011

Does Britain really hate its children?

Something seems to have gone seriously awry with our child-rearing culture.

Anne Marie Carrie, the chief executive of Barnardo’s, unveiled a survey last week that seemed to indicate that Britons, as a whole, don’t like children very much, or at least the general concept of children. Almost half of respondents believed that they are becoming “feral” and “like animals”, and view them as violent, angry and abusive. A rather worrying 38 per cent don’t believe that children who get into trouble need to be helped. “What hope is there for childhood in the UK today if this is how adults think?” she said.

Broadly speaking, she is right. Of course, the majority of parents in Britain are inclined to think the best of their own children. But even then, there is often the stubborn notion that their encroachment on our time must be strictly regulated, and hours spent with them dutifully ticked off in a mental box.

In spectacularly dysfunctional families, of the kind that came to light during the heartbreaking case of Shannon Matthews, the children’s needs scarcely figure at all. Shannon and her siblings scrabbled in the margins of the parents’ existence for crumbs of attention and hit-and-miss meals.

At the other end of the spectrum, children are togged out in the cutest gear, their little lives progressing from the Gina Ford regime to a hectic whirl of “improving” activities. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as they enjoy it – but sometimes it feels as if the manic middle-class schedule is powered not by the child’s own desires, but the parental terror of “downtime”, the icy fear of what dark chaos might unfurl if you all just loafed around, bickering, chatting or examining the anatomical construction of snails in the back yard. more