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Why Are British Children So Unhappy...?

by Jo Shaer, on July 29, 2012

Interesting article in The Guardian which highlights the unhappiness of British children in comparison to their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

The 2007 UNICEF report which put Britain bottom of the 21 industrial nations surveyed when it came to the emotional well being of their young people emphasised the love that children have elsewhere of outdoor play and a sense of family life. A more recent study last year showed that, despite that, our parents - particularly those from less well off families felt the need to ply them with consumer goods rather than taking them to the park.

Sadie from asked me for my opinion on Google Plus - since I am both a parent and a lollipop lady at a local primary school.

I have to say that the kids at my school are all very happy to be going there. Very rarely do I see tears at the gate. If anything, I would remark upon the fact that many of the children turn up early so they can congregate with their chums in the playground before going in.

Personally, I do see a lot of young children with technological devices which are far too expensive to be taken to school... and totally unnecessary. An infant school child should not need an iPod on a 10 minute drive to school when s/he could be chatting with that parent and s/he certainly should not need it in school. You also don't need the latest model of the iPhone when you are 9... unless you want to get mugged.

Having said that, I also see a lot of children going off to the park after school with mum or dad. And also a lot of new play equipment going into school as a result of the efforts of our fabulous Parents Association. Again, there is always a flurry of activity after school as the children make use of this whilst awaiting the arrival of older brothers and sisters.

But I do think that there are questions to answer here - and by a variety of culprits!

The Advertising Industry

Who targets both parents and children with this idea that you're not cool if you don't have the latest gadget which makes you sit in a chair for hours? It's not surprising that, as a nation, we are becoming increasingly larger and less fit. The advertising methodology has grown more and more apparent as I have become more involved with my own sub-section of this industry.

Today's advertising often encourages a mentality which makes people want to achieve a goal without actually put in the effort. There's an app for that!

Well, actually there isn't one to encourage quality communication between parents and children. And sitting and playing an electronic game for hours on end does not count! Real goals and real achievements need to be encouraged and, with the Olympics in town, we should be encouraging our youngsters to watch their peers and get down to the pool or the running track, learn to cycle or one of the other vast array of sporting activities for which you can now win a medal. If you're not sporty, the opening ceremony was an encouragement to learn to dance, choreograph or direct!

Children need to be encouraged to use their own imaginations not live out other people's visions - many of whom seem to be fixated with killing people and destroying things. I don't think the behaviour in the riots last summer were just a coincidence.

One of my clients is a centre where there are many therapists who are helping children to deal with some of the more traumatic occurrences of 21st century life through art and play and getting great results. These are the every day activities that should be encouraged rather than being isolated as good therapies.

The Politicians

But where are our children meant to play? In streets which are lined with parked cars down which the commuter traffic rumbles unchecked over ridiculously places speed bumps that can be avoided? Recently a gang of youths started running rampage through local parks which discouraged parents from taking their children there. Where were the police who could have prevented this? They are all holed up in the main police station miles away because some bright spark decided it would be a good idea to save money by closing down all the local ones. What has happened to finger on the pulse community policing where they could respond to incidents quickly and with local knowledge?

There's no point calling the main station and getting a bobby from an area on the other side of town with no real local knowledge of the events and characters in our area. Much more likely to stir it up than calm things down.

I have also seen the problem of allowing teenagers to go onto the various social media platforms without supervision. It is far too easy to meet up with other disaffected youngsters who think the world owes them a living and watch them spiral into a decline of depression that seems to feed on itself.

The Parents

But, as parents, we also have a responsibility. If our children see us continually on our mobile phones or computers, they mimic our behaviour and then double it... from the earliest ages. Maybe they need to see us walking in the park or having fun with them in a sandpit or a slide. Or taking them swimming or just going off to the gym regularly to get fit. Or, cheaper still, just walking to school with them. We need to get the balance on the side of outdoor activities. And that requires effort on our part - as well as stepping away from our own addiction to computers.

So how do the Government encourage more parent-child activity? Well, not by insisting that single mothers go out to work or they won't get any benefits! Hey, I'm all in favour of not allowing people to sponge off the state but they're barking up the wrong tree here. These ladies could be encouraged to take part time jobs once their children are at school but not whilst they're still toddlers. It beggars belief that our politicians should complain about an out of control youth culture on one hand and then try to destroy any possible chance of building the level of mutual respect required to raise a teenager who is able to connect with society. This whole area needs to be treated far more carefully but the current suggested solution looks like a recipe for disaster in order to save a few pennies that will end up being swallowed up when we have to deal with the future consequences.

Children require boundaries in order to feel safe and grow as part of their own community. It's hard enough to build and enforce these at the best of times but with the continued interference of Government and media, it becomes almost impossible. We cannot smack, so we shout - becoming a grotesque caricature of EastEnders/TOWIE fishwives who become white noise to their own offspring as they do what it takes to try to overcome those boundaries whilst still searching for someone to enforce them. They need a certain amount of fear in order to learn that respect. You don't see the leader of a pride of lions letting the younger ones get away with things, they are shown the red card with no possibility for misunderstanding.

And yet we also take away the teeth of our teachers and police by not allowing them to cuff an insolent teenager around the head to instil some level of respect and authority. We play up the civil rights of aggressors rather than supporting the responses of the attacked.

It's not surprising that people - old and young - are confused about how they are supposed to behave.

The Food and Drink Industry

And then of course we need to address the issue of nutrition. With a diet that is full of additives which have side effects that cause hyperactivity, there will naturally have to be a come down. So in between quaffing our litres of fizzy, corn-syrup laden beverages and binging on preservative laden genetically modified carbs, we get a cycle of ups and downs that is such a rollercoaster, the poor kids don't know where they are. "Depression" is rife.

The Pharmaceutical Companies

But it's not in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry to look at diet when they can label kids with medical disorders that require pills.

So, when you look at that list of 21 industrial countries, you also need to think about how powerful big business is in those countries. Money is at the root of the majority of decisions... not the health and well being of the nation in question.

The Children

It really isn't just a question of blaming the parents. We are manipulated at every turn by what makes the most money for those who are really running things.

British children are unhappy because they don't understand the cultural order of things. And that's because their parents are often too lazy to do the right thing and be a parent. You cannot be their friend until you have given them the maturity to learn to co-exist with their fellow human beings.

Many of our kids have been brought up to believe that they are the centre of the universe rather than peripherals adding to the central entity - community and a good life for everyone within that network. They are spoiled, selfish and lazy.

They have been fed a diet that emphasises those poorer aspects of their nature which should normally be controlled through consideration for other people.

And then they have been given a medical label that makes them feel as if they deserve special attention but only gives them a handful of tablets to pop making them a target for the other side of the phamaceutical industry.

Simplistic? Maybe. I don't have all the answers but I do know that we cannot keep on going down this route and hope to survive into the 22nd century.

Sorry, rant over!

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