Skip to comments.Childhood’s End ("Britain worst country in Western world to be a child") [Smash-mouth op-ed]
Posted on 08/19/2008 3:59:46 AM PDT by yankeedame
Growing up in todays England is far from the idyll
depicted in this nineteenth-century lithograph.
NB: This is a fairly long article. I have taken the liberty of skipping the first half --except the two opening lines-- as it deals chiefly with horrific examples of modern day British "childhood". I urge the reader not to skip it.--YD]
Britain is the worst country in the Western world in which to be a child, according to a recent UNICEF report. Ordinarily, I would not set much store by such a report; but in this case, I think it must be right...
...Our [British] society has lost the most elementary common sense about what children need.
More than four out of ten British children are born out of wedlock; the unions of which they are the issue are notoriously unstable. Even marriage has lost much of its meaning. In a post-religious society, it is no longer a sacrament. The government has ensured that marriage brings no fiscal advantages and, indeed, for those at the lower end of the social scale, that it has only disadvantages. Easy divorce means that a quarter of all marriages break up within a decade.
The results of this social dysfunction are grim for children. Eighty percent of British children have televisions in their bedrooms, more than have their biological fathers at home. Fifty-eight percent of British children eat their evening meal in front of the television (a British child spends more than five hours per day watching a screen); 36 percent never eat any meals together with other family members; and 34 percent of households do not even own dining tables. In the prison where I once worked, I discovered that many inmates had never eaten at a table together with someone else.
Let me speculate briefly on the implications of these startling facts. They mean that children never learn, from a sense of social obligation, to eat when not hungry, or not to eat when they are. Appetite is all they need consult in deciding whether to eata purely egotistical outlook. Hence anything that interferes with the satisfaction of appetite will seem oppressive. They do not learn such elementary social practices as sharing or letting others go first. Since mealtimes are usually when families get to converse, the children do not learn the art of conversation, either; listening to what others say becomes a challenge. There is a time and place for everything: if I feel like it, the time is now, and the place is here.
If children are not taught self-control, they do not learn it. Violence against teachers is increasing: injuries suffered by teachers at the hands of pupils rose 20 percent between 2000 and 2006, and in one survey, which may or may not be representative, 53 percent of teachers had objects thrown at them, 26 percent had been attacked with furniture or equipment, 2 percent had been threatened with a knife, and 1 percent with a gun. Nearly 40 percent of teachers have taken time off to recover from violent incidents at students hands. About a quarter of British teachers have been assaulted by their students over the last year.
The British, never fond of children, have lost all knowledge or intuition about how to raise them; as a consequence, they now fear them, perhaps the most terrible augury possible for a society. The signs of this fear are unmistakable on the faces of the elderly in public places. An involuntary look of distaste, even barely controlled terror, crosses their faces if a group of young teens approaches; then they try to look as if they are not really there, hoping to avoid trouble. And the children themselves are afraid. The police say that many children as young as eight are carrying knives for protection. Violent attacks by the young between ten and 17, usually on other children, have risen by 35 percent in the last four years.
The police, assuming that badly behaved children will become future criminals, have established probably the largest database of DNA profiles in the world: 1.1 million samples from children aged ten to 18, taken over the last decade, and at an accelerating rate (some law enforcement officials have advocated that every child should have a DNA profile on record). Since the criminal-justice system reacts to the commission of serious crimes hardly at all, however, British youth do not object to the gathering of the samples: they know that they largely act with impunity, profiles or no profiles.
The British may have always inclined toward harshness or neglect (or both) in dealing with children; but never before have they combined such attitudes with an undiscriminating material indulgence. My patients would sometimes ask me how it was that their children had turned out so bad when they had done everything for them. When I asked them what they meant by everything, it invariably meant the latest televisions in their bedrooms or the latest fashionable footwearto which modern British youth attaches far more importance than Imelda Marcos ever did.
Needless to say, the British states response to the situation that it has in part created is simultaneously authoritarian and counterproductive. The government pretends, for example, that the problem of child welfare is one of raw poverty. Britain does have the highest rate of child poverty, bar the United States, in the West, as defined (as it usually is) by the percentage of children living in households with an income of less than 50 percent of the median. (Whether this is a sensible definition of poverty is a subject rarely broached.) But after many years of various redistributive measures and billions spent to reduce it, child poverty is, if anything, more widespread.
The British government thus pursues social welfare policies that encourage the creation of households like the Matthews, and then seeks, via yet more welfare spending, to reduce the harm done to children in them. But was the Matthews household poor, in any but an artificial sense? At the time of Shannons current stepfathers arrest, the household income was $72,000; it lived free of rent and local taxes, and it boasted three computers and a large plasma-screen television. Would another $5,000 or $10,000 or $20,000 have made any difference?
A system of perverse incentives in a culture of undiscriminating materialism, where the main freedom is freedom from legal, financial, ethical, or social consequences, makes childhood in Britain a torment both for many of those who live it and those who observe it. Yet the British government will do anything but address the problem, or that part of the problem that is its duty to address: the state-encouraged breakdown of the family. If one were a Marxist, one might see in this refusal the self-interest of the state-employee class: social problems, after all, are their raison dêtre.
Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
My favorite SciFi Novel! That and Rendezvous with Rama.
I think the Brits have had trouble with their children for a very long time, probably starting after the war, with the advent of full-scale Socialism and the collapse of personal responsibility.
About 15 years ago, I was in a small tourist city in Spain and happened to bump into a British tourist who was looking for the same museum I was. She didn’t speak Spanish and I did, and I told her I was going to ask the only locals I saw, a group of kids who were kicking a ball around at the end of the street.
She was terrified and wouldn’t even come with me. When I came back - the kids having pointed me in the direction of the museum, where the mother of one of them worked - she told me that in Britain, you’d never dare go up and speak to children, especially in a group, because most likely, they’d attack you. I was completely stunned by this.
The result was that he founded the Boy Scouts to promote a healthy and active life with service to country and community.
Scouting, though under assault by degenerate elements within our own society preserves and teaches those positive values today.
Dalrymple is one of the best political writers today. Always worth reading. Thanks for the link!
this is awful- I wonder hwo America stacks up, in terms of erosion of marriage, illegitimate births, reliance on TV and computer rather than human socialization for entertainment
Thanks for the reminder about Baden POwell
Boy Scouting values are now under such assault that being a Boy Scout is a disqualifer for public positions of moral authority - have an attorney cousin who was rejected for a judge position because he is a boy socut leader
Let's not forget their finally hitting rock bottom, where a toddler who doesn't automatically like anything and everything put on the plate might be a "racist".
Socialism, a/k/a Labour Party, shares a lot of the blame for this.
Very good article by Theodore Dalrymple. Thanks for posting.
Britain does not have a monopoly on that!!
True,I think the British have a new ad campaign lead by Beck’s “Don’t shive your mommy.”
Reminds me of “A Clockwork Orange”
Brian Aldiss was right on the money.
Pretty freaky, really.