Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Childhood’s End ("Britain worst country in Western world to be a child") [Smash-mouth op-ed]
City-Journal ^ | Summer 2008 | Theodore Dalrymple

Posted on 08/19/2008 3:59:46 AM PDT by yankeedame

Theodore Dalrymple

Childhood’s End

Britain, land of bleak houses and low expectations

Growing up in today’s 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 eat—a 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 footwear—to which modern British youth attaches far more importance than Imelda Marcos ever did.

Needless to say, the British state’s 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 Shannon’s current stepfather’s 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 d’être.

Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

TOPICS: Miscellaneous; Society
KEYWORDS: anthonydaniels; dalrymple; theodoredalrymple
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-25 last
To: Noumenon
"Clockwork Orange" was supposed to be a work of fiction, not prophesy.


21 posted on 08/19/2008 7:58:26 AM PDT by Lurker (Islam is an insane death cult. Any other aspects are PR to get them within throat-cutting range.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Noumenon
Reminds me of “A Clockwork Orange” Brian Aldiss was right on the money.

You are right about that. Just to give credit where credit is due, "A Clockwork Orange" was written by Anthony Burgess.

22 posted on 08/19/2008 8:42:27 AM PDT by ConfusedAndLovingIt
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

To: Jimmy Valentine

Here is what happened at the Scout Jamboree in England last year. Frightening.

23 posted on 08/19/2008 12:49:13 PM PDT by ishabibble (ALL-AMERICAN INFIDEL)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: ConfusedAndLovingIt

You’re right - it was Burgess. Insufficient coffee resaources for brain...

24 posted on 08/19/2008 1:35:59 PM PDT by Noumenon (Time for Atlas to shrug - and pick up a gun.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: Lurker

Some could well see it coming, though, couldn’t they?

25 posted on 08/19/2008 1:36:56 PM PDT by Noumenon (Time for Atlas to shrug - and pick up a gun.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-25 last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson