adolescents britanniques parmi les plus mal élevés d'Europe
afp--londres--260707---- - Le gouvernement britannique a annoncé
jeudi un plan national d'aide à la jeunesse désoeuvrée,
le jour où une étude a estimé que les adolescents
de Grande Bretagne sont parmi les plus mal élevés en Europe.
Par rapport à leurs condisciples européens, les jeunes
Britanniques sont plus susceptibles de se battre, de boire jusqu'à
l'ivresse, de se droguer ou d'avoir des relations sexuelles avant l'âge
de 16 ans, selon cette étude
de l'Institut de Recherche pour des politiques publiques (IPPR),
proche du parti travailliste au pouvoir.
"Mais ce n'est pas de leur faute", a relativisé une chercheuse
de l'institut, Julia Margo.
"Les adolescents britanniques passent plus de temps à traîner
avec leurs copains et moins de temps avec les adultes, tandis que les adultes
britanniques ont moins tendance à intervenir pour empêcher
les adolescents de commettre des actes de vandalisme ou d'avoir des comportements
antisociaux", a-t-elle commenté.
L'IPPR préconise notamment le développement d'activités
obligatoires après les cours pour lutter contre le désoeuvrement
des adolescents. Il suggère dans son rapport que plus de jeunes
s'impliquent dans le scoutisme, les arts martiaux, le théâtre
ou le sport.
La secrétaire d'Etat à la Jeunesse Beverley Hughes a présenté
jeudi au Parlement un projet de 124 millions de livres (186 millions d'euros)
sur 3 ans pour financer des lieux "attractifs et modernes" pour les jeunes.
Le gouvernement de Tony Blair avait créé en 2005 un Fonds
pour la jeunesse de 115 millions de livres (172,5 millions d'euros) qui
proposait, entre autres, des cours pour devenir Disc Jockey, des clubs
de pêche et des cours du soir pour les jeunes mamans.
Report slams Britain for failing
'out of control' teens
afp--londres - July 26 - British teenagers are among the worst
behaved in Europe, a study by a leading think-tank said Thursday, blaming
government policy failures for high levels of fighting, binge drinking,
drug taking and under-age sex.
The centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research, favoured
by former prime minister Tony Blair, said young Britons were left to their
own devices through successive policy failures.
The report -- "Freedom's
Orphans: Raising Youth in a Changing World" -- was published
as the government announced a new 184-million-pound (275-million-euro,
378-million-dollar) 10-year strategy for young people.
It will be supplemented by cash from bank accounts dormant for 15 years
IPPR senior research fellow Julia Margo welcomed the funding, which
will be spent on "exciting, modern, up-to-date"
places for youngsters in every community, as a step in the right direction.
But she said the government could have gone further, by making extra-curricular
"Britain has a real problem with its teenagers," she said earlier, highlighting
that children may be richer than their predecessors, more computer-literate
and fashion-conscious but are "life poor".
"British teenagers are more likely to get into fights, hang out with
other teenagers, binge drink, take drugs and have under-age and unprotected
sex than teenagers in most other European countries. But it isn't their
Margo said teenagers should be made to spend less time "hanging out"
with each other and challenged the government to be less "touchy-feely",
arguing that compulsory, not optional activities, would help reign in unruly
"They (children and young people) might not like it but the evidence
shows that the ones who don't want to do it are the ones who would benefit
the most," she added.
Children's minister Beverley Hughes said Thursday better youth services
would boost self-esteem, discipline and self-control and in turn help tackle
problems like crime, disorder, teenage pregnancy and lack of qualifications.
The IPPR's report said regular attendance at extra-curricular clubs
helped pupils manage their emotions better, cut down on anti-social behaviour
and "radically improve" life chances.
Its conclusions were based on analysis of surveys of people born between
1958 and 1970 and those with young people today.
They suggested that those who participated in sports or community-based
activities aged 16 were more likely to be better off at age 30.
All were less likely to be depressed; single, separated or divorced;
in social housing; have no qualifications; or be on a low income.
teenagers 'worst behaved in Europe'
Publisher: Ian Morgan -
Young Britons are more likely to binge drink than their European neighbours
Plans for a large injection of government cash into youth projects will
be announced today, as a report warns that British teenagers are the worst
behaved in Europe.
Young Britons were more likely to fight, binge drink, take drugs and
have under-age sex than their contemporaries across the EU, said the report
from left-of-centre think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research.
It called for compulsory after-school activities such as sports, martial
arts or military cadets to encourage teenagers to develop interests and
spend less time simply "hanging out" with each other.
The 10-year youth strategy being launched today by the Government's
minister for children and young people, Beverley Hughes, is expected to
support the idea that teenagers should be given more positive ways to spend
their spare time.
But it was last night unclear whether the Government would go down the
route of compulsion favoured by the IPPR.
Outlining her intentions earlier this month, Ms Hughes said: "Giving
young people positive things to do and places to go, especially in the
most deprived communities, is a real priority for this government.
"We know that young people themselves are the most likely to be victims
of anti-social behaviour and this needs to be tackled. We've already put
£115 million directly into the hands of young people, resulting in
650,000 benefiting from new activities and places to go."
Launched in 2005, the £115 million Youth Funds have provided activities
and facilities - such as DJ-ing classes, childcare to allow teenage mothers
to attend night school, a youth radio station and a fishing club - in response
to proposals from 13-19 year-olds about what was lacking in their local
Today's IPPR report called for a one-hour "legal extension" to the school
day so that pupils must take part in after-school activities, whether they
liked it or not.
The think-tank said regularly attending extra-curricular clubs helped
pupils manage their emotions better and cut down on anti-social behaviour.
The IPPR suggested more pupils should be encouraged to follow pursuits
including Girl Guides and Scouts, Army, Air and Sea Cadets, martial arts,
drama clubs and sporting teams.
Julia Margo, IPPR's senior research fellow, said teenagers in the UK
spent too much time just "hanging out".
"Britain has a real problem with its teenagers," she said.
"British teenagers are more likely to get into fights, hang out with
other teenagers, binge drink, take drugs and have under-age and unprotected
sex than teenagers in most other European countries.
"But it isn't their fault.
"British teenagers spend more time 'hanging out' with their mates and
less time with adults, while British adults are less likely to intervene
to stop teenagers committing vandalism and other anti-social behaviour."
She said the Government's youth strategy was an admission that teenagers
had been left to their own devices for too long.
"The worry is that if the Government is too touchy feely and just offers
teenagers the kinds of activities they say they want, we will fail another
generation," she said.
"Every child should be expected to do at least an hour a week of constructive
"They might not like it but the evidence shows that the ones who don't
want to do it are the ones who would benefit the most."
A spokesman for the Department for Children said: "As we expand our
extended schools programme of out-of-hours provision in sport, music and
drama to every school by 2010, we are ensuring that children from disadvantaged
backgrounds and their parents have a chance to benefit.
"Over the next three years, we will provide an additional £265
million to enable extended schools to do more to support disadvantaged
children and young people.
"By year three, the funding will enable all schools to offer those children
two hours per week of group activities in term time, plus 30 hours of additional
activities over the holidays.
"Extended schools will offer young people the opportunity to undertake
extra tuition, practise sports, learn a musical instrument, or simply catch
up on their homework - hardly 'touch-feely' activities."
Youth services use unclaimed cash
Teenagers are being promised
more constructive activities
Thursday, 26 July 2007
Unclaimed money from abandoned bank accounts will fund government plans
to provide positive activities for teenagers and reduce youth crime.
The scheme is part of a 10-year strategy for young people, unveiled
by Children's Minister Beverley Hughes.
Improving facilities and community projects for young people would help
them "defy the negative stereotypes", said the minister.
Among the plans are "coming of age" ceremonies for teenagers.
The funding - £184m of new money - will be supplemented with money
taken from so-called "dormant" bank accounts, which have not been used
for 15 years or more.
Banks and building societies hold an estimated £15bn in unclaimed
accounts and assets - such as funds that have not been claimed after the
death of an account holder.
British teenagers are more likely to get into fights, hang out
with other teenagers, binge drink, take drugs and have underage and unprotected
sex than teenagers in most other European countries
Julia Margo, IPPR
The youth strategy, presented to the House of Commons by Beverley Hughes,
sets out ideas to offer activities and facilities for teenagers.
This includes more support for youth clubs, projects and voluntary groups;
"coming of age ceremonies" as a rite of passage into adulthood; a Youth
Week marking young people's achievements and a National Institute of Youth
There is no set format planned for the publicly-funded "coming of age"
ceremonies for 18 year olds, says a spokesperson for the Department for
Schools, Children and Families.
But they would be local events designed by young people - and would
not be expected to be like the glitzy American-style graduation ceremonies.
Tim Loughton, the Conservatives' children's spokesman, said that the
government was "in denial" over the serious problems facing young people
- such as crime, drugs, alcohol and mental health. "We have to face up
to the reality and tackle it."
The government's youth strategy comes as the IPPR think tank warns that
teenagers in Britain are much more likely to get into trouble than their
"Britain has a real problem with its teenagers," says senior research
fellow Julia Margo.
"British teenagers are more likely to get into fights, hang out with
other teenagers, binge drink, take drugs and have underage and unprotected
sex than teenagers in most other European countries," she says.
The IPPR report also highlights that young people in Britain are particularly
likely to be influenced by their peer group - rather than adults, not least
because they do not spend much time with adults.
"British teenagers spend more time 'hanging out' with their mates and
less time with adults, while British adults are less likely to intervene
to stop teenagers committing vandalism and other anti-social behaviour.
"Successive governments have left British youth to its own devices."
The IPPR says that all teenagers should be required to stay behind for
an hour at school to take part in activities such as sport, exercise or
The government has already announced plans for "extended schools", which
will provide extra services and clubs for pupils before and after the school
TRANSCRIPT OF A RECORDED DOCUMENTARY
Presenter: Andrew Brown
Producer: Chris Bowlby
Editor: Nicola Meyrick
201 Wood Lane
020 8752 7279
Broadcast Date: 12.04.07
Repeat Date: 15.04.07
Taking part in order of appearance:
Shadow Education Secretary
Professor Hugh Cunningham
Historian of childhood
Minister for Children
Professor Richard Layard
Economist, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE
Senior Research Fellow, IPPR
Children’s Ombudsman, Sweden
BROWN: There have never been societies with richer children
than ours; nor, perhaps, have there ever been societies where parents
governments have felt so uncertain about how these precious children
brought up, and worried so much about whether they are happy.
LEACH: There is a fashion which I don’t altogether share
- and some people will be cross to hear me say it, but I don’t care
- to view
childhood as some kind of, it sometimes seems, almost magical thing
itself. To me, you’re a child because you’re growing to be an
day and that’s kind of the point.
WILLETTS: I think there was someone who said I’m not
particularly happy, but I’m not unhappy about it. So we have
to be careful
about just making happiness the thing because sometimes you’re
engaged in things which are tough and they don’t exactly make you
happy, but they’re also deeply satisfying and fulfilling.
BROWN: David Willetts, the Shadow Education Secretary. Before
him, Penelope Leach, an influential psychologist. Both in their different
sanguine, yet something rather horrible does seem to be happening to
Britain today. One small statistic collected by the thinktank the Institute
for Public Policy
Research or IPPR: it is almost certain that someone under the age of
nineteen will try to
kill themselves while this programme goes out. 24,000 young people
made the attempt
last year: one every 22 minutes. All this is a far cry from the childhood
grandparents remember. It seemed a few decades ago that progress would
forever childhood misery. Hugh Cunningham is a historian of childhood:
CUNNINGHAM: Healthy and happy children, that phrase is often
invoked in the early 20th century. I’m always struck in 1942
wrote that ‘the story of English childhood is moving towards a happy
ending’ as though all children were at last about to achieve this healthy,
happy childhood. I think actually what happens is that in the
early 70s people begin to become pessimistic about the likelihood of
achieving this. I think until then, they were pretty confident
were getting better.
BROWN: The most recent dent to this confidence came from a report
Unicef, which claimed that British children were the least happy in
Europe: only the
United States, among developed nations, was a worse place to grow up
Hughes is the Minister for Children.
HUGHES: I don’t accept that those are a fair picture
necessarily of children and young people today and that’s because the
report drew from surveys that were done in 2000 and 2003 of young
people who were aged between 11 and 15 at that time; and that means
those are children and young people who were born between about 1985
and 1992 and spent most of their formative years not under a Labour
government and of course who’d now be, at the time when the report
published, something between 16 and 22 years old. So I think
and I think there’s some methodological problems with it. But
I do accept
that you know whatever its validity as a piece of research, that what
saying chimed with a number of concerns I think people have about some
groups of children and young people today and whether they are happy.
BROWN: The survey has touched a nerve, no matter what may be
the validity of the criticisms levelled at its methods. None of the
obvious and popular
explanations for children’s unhappiness stand up very well in the light
international comparisons made in the Unicef report. Some countries
which have more
childcare than ours, and more working mothers, seem to have happier
children; so do
other countries where mothers more often stay at home. Countries with
lower rates of
marriage than ours can have happier children; so can countries where
families are more
stable. Even poverty does not seem to make children miserable on its
own. After all,
practically every parent who is today nostalgic about the better childhoods
of the past is
remembering a time of much smaller material abundance, and much lower
But perhaps it is higher expectations which are themselves the problem.
LEACH: We know there are a lot of poor children and I
think to be a poor child in a society as aspirant as ours and as materialistic
as ours is very, very difficult. Children are herd animals -
they want to do
what other children do, they want to have what other children have
therefore to be much poorer than the average probably does make you
BROWN: Poverty and happiness are the special subjects of the
economist Richard Layard, whose research into what he calls the science
has been influential with the government. Although the government could
recently boast that it was rapidly lifting a great many children out
of poverty, Lord Layard
believes the problem of misery is broader than that.
LAYARD: I don’t see why one shouldn’t believe these surveys and some
of the questions are very specific like, for example, ‘are
most of the other children in your classes kind and helpful?’ is a
concrete question; and whereas you get something like 70% or more
saying yes in Scandinavia and Germany, here we get 43%. I think
very depressing and disturbing. Also the US is very low.
And I link this to
the fact that levels of trust in the society as a whole have been falling
much in the US and in Britain. I attribute this to the philosophy
individualism that your job in life is to be as successful as you can
compared with other people. That’s obviously a formula that can’t
more happiness in society because it’s impossible for more people to
more successful compared with other people and we need to move
towards a society in which people think their job is to contribute
welfare of other people.
MARGO: We know from research into the impacts of consumerism
on childhood that children’s sense of their status and role in society,
it is much
more sensitive and delicate than adults’
BROWN: Julia Margo, co-author of a recent IPPR report on
children and young people .
MARGO: Children react to messages from advertisers
about kinds of products and lifestyles associated with a high status
society much more than adults do. They’re much more susceptible
these kinds of messages and ideas and they’re much more prone to
anxiety about their status.
BROWN: And are British children disproportionately
exposed to these kind of messages from advertisers?
MARGO: Well what’s quite worrying actually is that the
most recent research suggests that British children are more brand
than their US counterparts even, which gives some indication of our
of children’s brand awareness. It’s a very serious problem here.
BROWN: Commercialism is only one aspect of a wider problem
which worries almost everyone who talks about modern children; and
this is the
disappearance, or blurring, of the traditional boundaries between childhood
adulthood. A whole cluster of worries come together here. Childhood,
considered as a
period of innocence, ends much earlier than it used to. This is partly
a matter of
sexualisation and earlier puberties; a point illustrated by two small
stories from last
week, when the teachers’ union called for a ban on sexualised clothing
and it emerged
that a ten-year-old girl, on the run from a care home in South Wales,
had picked up, and
slept with, a twenty year old man who was charged for this offence.
But he escaped jail
when the judge in the case agreed that he might very well have believed
her claim to be
So we spend less time as children, and less time as parents, too. In
between, there is a
period of prolonged adolescent freedom, in which we shop among alternatives.
always choice. Companies are just as happy to sell to children
as to adults. Even in
countries which have made a stand against the commercialisation of
Sweden, children’s unhappiness is discussed in very adult terms. Lena
Nyberg is the
Children’s Ombudsman in Sweden.
NYBERG: Children in Sweden, they are having a quite
good time because we have a high living standard in Sweden in many
ways. But we also have some problems and if you listen to children
young people themselves, they would say that the working environment
schools, bullying, stress and also custody issues, that’s some of the
common issues that children would like to discuss with us. I
highlight the problem with the mental illness we have among young people
because that’s a growing problem and I don’t think that grown-ups are
aware about the problem enough because we have a quite good health
situation when it comes to the physical health, but we have a huge
problem with mental illness among young people.
BROWN: Children and young people can be unhappy in
surprisingly adult ways, and modern psychiatry suggests that we can
change these things. Richard Layard.
LAYARD: There’s been huge progress in the last twenty
years, especially identification of the areas of the brain where happiness
and unhappiness are experienced, which correlates very well with what
people say about how happy they are, so we should take very seriously
what people say about how happy they are and how happy they look.
regards our ability to produce happiness, of course first people come
the world with very different potential for happiness. That’s
a very sad and
harsh fact about life. Then that potential interacts with their
BROWN: When you say people come in with very different
potentials for happiness, essentially you are saying that we - society,
government - have to look at some people and say that if you’ve got
melancholic temperament there’s not that much that anybody can do
LAYARD: No, I think there is a lot that people can do and I
think the fact that we have now discovered really for the first time
human history systematic treatments for depression is one of the most
important developments actually in the last fifty years if we’re talking
human happiness. And certainly I would include medication in
that as well
as modern evidence based psychological therapies. This is leading
into a world in which there’s far less misery than we had in the past.
BROWN: How widespread then is depression among
LAYARD: Well the estimates are something like 10% in
early adolescence rising to something like 16% in later adolescence.
When you say depression, I’m also including anxiety disorders.
major problems and of course people don’t like to talk about them.
Parents don’t like to talk about it because they’re ashamed of it.
these problems are not identified for years and years and years and
which treat adults say in their late twenties for anxiety disorders
that on average people have had this disorder for say ten years, ten
BROWN: This feels like a new and shocking perspective, but
perhaps it isn’t. Historian Hugh Cunningham.
CUNNINGHAM: We need to remember that the early 20th century
placed something that people have always been conscious of, but they
gave it a kind of new name - adolescence - and adolescence lasted from
what 14 or so to in some people’s view about mid-20s and famously was
time of difficulty. I mean you might have a happy childhood,
ever heard of a happy adolescence. The words don’t go together.
BROWN: Even so, there is some evidence that we are, in Britain,
less likely than elsewhere to navigate safely the currents and the
dangerous shallows of
adolescence. If it is a naturally miserable age, should they be spending
quite so much
time discouraging each other? Julia Margo has in her research discovered
children have less adult guidance than children elsewhere in Europe.
MARGO: While in countries like Italy and Germany, you
find that young people spend a lot of time with their parents and they
spend a lot of time with their friends, in the UK they spend a lot
with their friends and not enough time with their parents. Okay,
concern is that messages from the peer group will now kind of undermine
any messages from adult society about the way that we should behave
and communicate and we do know that you get a kind of ‘Lord of the
effect. I hate to say it, but when you take a big group of young
stick them in a room together, particularly if they’re young boys and
no adults around, they tend towards you know disorder and chaos.
BROWN: Adult authority recedes from modern childhood. This isn’t
quite the same as a gain of freedom or even a lack of supervision.
In some ways
children are less free to run around and play than ever before because
the motor car
has made most of their traditional pursuits far too dangerous. And
the scrutiny of a peer
group can be closer and more unforgiving than that of the most ferocious
lack of supervision there. But the traditional role of adults as referees
people has shrunk. The period of freedom from authority starts earlier,
much longer than ever before in history. Could anything be done to
reduce this period of
prolonged adolescence? Penelope Leach shares the anxiety about its
LEACH: One of the things that’s happened is that we
have invented somebody called an adult who is not a parent. It
voluntary matter until very recently and the vast majority of adults
willy-nilly parents. So now we have these child-free people who
who haven’t got children and don’t propose to have children, as well
course as lots of childless people who wish they were parents.
it from that end, I think that’s a change. In a way I sort of
think it’s a pity
that we’ve decided that if we’re only going to have one or two children
any couple that the thing to do is to wait till the very, very end
fertility to have them in order to pack as much child-free life in
as we can
first because in a way it would work better if we put the children
in at the
beginning of the adulthood and had lots and lots and lots of years
afterwards. I hesitate to say it because society isn’t organised
and I would be the first to be bursting into tears if young people
that I knew
were saying well we’re going to have our family now at 18, 19, 20 because
it wouldn’t work. But it could and it could have. We could
contraception that way instead of this way and it might have been better
for parents and children if we had.
MARGO: If you analyse the data coming from the Unicef
report, the closest correlation between their measurement of children’s
overall well-being and any other indicator relating to childhood is
teenage fertility rate. So if you look at a teenage fertility
rate of a country,
if it is high your children’s emotional well-being is poor and the
line is an
almost direct correlation. So we know teenage fertility is somehow
associated with the way that we care for and respect our children;
when we don’t, we have high teen fertility and poor child emotional
BROWN: Julia Margo. Unhappy, maladjusted children are a
problem for everyone; unhappy, maladjusted adolescents still more obviously
distress at the thought of young people going without what they would
like is not wholly
selfless. It is, at least partly, that we are afraid that they will
come and take it, perhaps
from our children, on the street. No government can avoid stepping
in when children’s
unhappiness has consequences for all of society. David Willetts
is the Shadow
Education Secretary: as a conservative intellectual, he must be sceptical
about the role
of the state, but at the same time, the past whose best elements he
is trying to conserve
can only be preserved by state action. Perhaps he is struggling with
contradictions as much as the rest of us.
WILLETTS: Governments have significant responsibilities
when it comes to mental health, when it comes to schools, they’re
increasingly involved in early years provision, they have some powers
over the regulation of advertising. So there are a lot of powers
governments’ disposal and while governments can’t do everything they
should at least when they do have control over things try to create
environment that supports families and protects childhood rather than
allows this sort of invasion that’s going on in the quality of childhood
BROWN: What exactly is this invasion into the quality of
WILLETTS: Well I think childhood is over supervised, I think
we’re all putting far too much pressure on our kids, and I think it’s
hard for people to relax. Parents feel under so much pressure.
endlessly feel they’re being blamed. But I think that if we could
allow, create a little bit more space in which children are allowed
children and then know there are boundaries for their behaviour and
boundaries that can be set by adults who don’t necessarily all have
in some sort of professional position, I think that is in the long
of our children and our society rather than this invasion of childhood
so many different pressures, including commercial pressures.
I think it’s
another thing that governments can do. It can’t do it completely,
where you can protect children from some of the commercial pressures
that are clearly bad influences on them, I think government should.
BROWN: So the conservatives favour government action to help
preserve the innocence of childhood, while the Labour government sees
responding to parental pressure rather than interfering in the normal
course of family
life. Beverley Hughes.
HUGHES: I’m absolutely clear and so is the government
that it is parents who bring up children and there’s no way we would
to transgress in terms of that responsibility or infantilise parents.
parents themselves are saying is that they want more support from local
services. They want it on their own terms, they don’t want to
be told what
to do, but they want a range of information, advice, maybe parenting
programmes that they can opt into if they need support and if they
got that support from you know other informal sources.
BROWN: You’re saying that there is a growing appetite for
advice on parenthood. Where do you think this appetite comes
Why are people now less certain about how to be parents?
HUGHES: I think that is a really interesting question and I
wouldn’t like to generalise and say that parents are more uncertain
the board about how best to be a parent, but I do feel that I have
that parents are a little bit more uncertain than they perhaps used
when things were simpler, particularly around setting boundaries, setting
limits and particularly are concerned about how they best protect their
children from a whole range of influences that you know previous
generations just wouldn’t have experienced. Because the rise
information technology, children are spending more time we know with
their peers, particularly when they get to teenage years, than they
do and less with their families - so it seems to have created a rather
uncertain landscape for parents.
BROWN: But who are to be our guides across this uncertain
landscape? Should it be the experts whose opinions are brought to us
by the state, or
those whom the market prefers? Traditionally the guides were grandparents,
are not often nowadays to hand in the way that a book can be, or even
a DVD. David
WILLETTS: For me as a Conservative, the experts that I
particularly respect are those experts who often discover that behind
folk wisdom there is a deep understanding of children and they often
up with evidence that confirms a lot of what your granny would have
you if you were still seeing your granny every day as you were raising
BROWN: To offer you an irresistible sound bite, you seem
to be arguing for a granny state rather than a nanny state. (Laughter)
WILLETTS: Well I think part of … I love it - a granny state,
not a nanny state… part of what’s happening of course is that
I think one
of the reasons for all these how to do it books is that parents do
incredibly insecure and maybe if we did rely a little bit more on granny,
we’d do a bit better
BROWN: So everyone agrees that the parents themselves don’t
feel they know how to bring up happy children on their own. They need
Someone who might fit the bill perfectly is Penelope Leach, whose books
on baby and
childcare were hugely influential, and who is now herself a granny.
LEACH: I don’t think we can make rules for bringing up
children because I don’t think we know what we want children to be
And anyway society is changing so fast that to have as an ideal a child
who will fit in to the way we’ve got things now would be totally hopeless
because things won’t be like that in ten years time. So I think
thing’s got a bit rigid, but I do see why there is definitely a feeling
parents that what you want is books and television programmes and so
that tell you what to do and they tend to be rather extreme.
whack ’em brigade and there’s the love ’em brigade. What there
between is the brigade I’d be in I suppose if I was still in a brigade,
is the sort of let’s think about this brigade, which is slow and boring
takes a long time, you know.
BROWN: Time, however, is one of the things that modern
parents and children notoriously lack. Although it is the rich who
this most, the working poor tend to have even less time for their children,
because they must work longer hours to make the money that they need.
is true even in relatively prosperous Sweden, where Lena Nyberg,
Children’s Ombudsman, gets thousands of emails a year from children,
encouraged to write in that way with their problems; she also hears
from schools all over the country about what concerns their pupils.
NYBERG: Normally parents give their children a lot of time
and you can see that a lot of parents spend a lot of time with the
but you can also see families where parents do not have time enough,
especially if you have parents who are single parents, normally single
mothers. They can have a very stressful life, not having time
children. You can also see families with a lot of work or maybe
have families that spend too much time in front of the television.
I would say that parents are very good parents and spend a lot of time
the children, but you also have exceptions. And you can also
see that as
a grown up it’s very easy to be stressed and if you are stressed you
provide your child with stress. And you can also provide the
stress because you have too many spare time activities. You can
too many activities beside school and the school can be enough of
activities for many children because you have so many homeworks,
especially when you are a teenager.
BROWN: The debate about their happiness goes to the heart of
the most fundamental question about children: Why do we have them at
all? It might
have been simple once: children were there for the benefit of their
parents, to support
them in their old age, and to carry on the family. Besides, they were
more or less
inevitable in the days before birth control. But nowadays, children
appear as an
expense, as a constraint on adult freedom, and as an investment of
very doubtful value.
Very few people justify their children in terms of benefit to the parents.
They are instead
meant to be valuable in themselves. Yet are we really so much more
altruistic than our
more fertile ancestors? Richard Layard.
LAYARD: We have a lot more parents now than in the past
who would say they want their children to be happy; that’s what they
more than anything. But we also have children in particular but
parents who feel under immense pressure to justify their children’s
existence by them being successful compared with other children.
two sets of goals are in quite a heavy degree of tension.
BROWN: So the fewer children we have, the more we need them
to succeed, and the more we want them to be happy. Yet the more important
becomes, the less likely it is that all children can hope for happiness,
unsuccessful must always be a majority and so increasingly miserable.
Is this setting up
an impossible bind? Penelope Leach believes parents and government
may be trying
LEACH: Even when I started in this business, it was still
very ordinary to have three or four or five living children in a family
was actually very much easier to be a child in those circumstances
because imagine you’re sitting at the supper table. If there’s
only you and
two adults, there’s nobody to distract them from how you’re not using
knife and fork. You know if there are three or four of you, there’s
chance that somebody else will do something disastrous and take the
pressure off you. I think a lot of the self-consciousness about
comes out of a sheer concentration of attention. I also think
that since 97
anyway government has played a part in this, whether witting or not.
have accepted that what happens to children very early in life is very
important to how they do later and so on. They know we have a
families who are much poorer than they should be and that this in a
predicts disaster later and they seem to have decided that you can
legislate and arrange for change.
BROWN: But what can we change? What should our
arrangements be? We can’t disentangle the problems of children from
those of adults.
The government, too, sends families mixed messages. They are to be,
Brown’s great phrase, “hard working families”. But do the hardest-working
the happiest children? The evidence suggests that they don’t and that
it’s the family
which plays together that stays together. In fact it’s hard to resist
a rather heretical
conclusion. Most of what we have seen as the peculiar horrors of modern
seem to arise from a lack of authority: they can, in shorthand, be
blamed on the Sixties.
But that was a complicated decade, with good as well as bad; and one
of the distinctive
attitudes of the Sixties was a distrust of money, and a belief that
should not be the measure of everything. We’re never going to get away
from a society
that cares about status. But one in which status is measured only by
makes us, and our children, needlessly miserable.