A 3-year study focusing on 35,000 children, parents and professionals, claims British children are less happy than those in almost any other developed country.
The aggressive pursuit of individual success by adults today is the greatest threat to our children….There is unease about the unprecedented speed with which children’s lives are changing; the commercial pressures they face; the violence they are exposed to; the rising stresses of school; the increased emotional distress they feel.
The Good Childhood Inquiry was a study commissioned by the Children’s Society in the UK. It blamed numerous factors on the difficulty in modern kids’ lives, including:
- Family break-up. Children in “broken” homes are 50 percent more like to suffer problems at school or become depressed. A third of British teens live apart from their fathers. In the United States, only 37% of children under the age of eighteen were living with married adults in a marriage the reporting spouse rated as “very happy,” which social scientists agree is the best possible situation for kids.
- Unbridled advertising. Kids watch much more than the prescribed two hours per day (which is still a lot!) and are exposed to ads for unhealthy food and alcohol. Here, children are exposed to 40,000 ads annually on television alone. A study last year found nothing good about TV viewing for kids.
- Competition in education. The study criticizes the struggle for personal status and success, which it says has filled the vacuum created by the decline of religious belief and community spirit.
- Income inequality. A quarter of British kids live at or below the poverty line. The rate in the U.S. is about 18 percent.
Yes, the study says that British children are having a rough time of it. But it’s not limited to that side of the pond, I’m sure. Many of the implications are those we see here in the States every day, such as the “me first” attitude of recent generations, which the study calls “excessive individualism.” As in, we get more pleasure from helping ourselves than helping others.
The report is not all gloom and doom; there are some things we can do. Though these recommendations were made with British kids in mind, I’m sure they can work here, too:
- Abolishing Sats tests and league tables in English schools. Or, in the U.S., we could certainly modify the rules for standardized tests. Here in Virginia they are appropriately called SOLs.
- A ban on all advertising aimed at kids under 12 and no TV commercials for alcohol or unhealthy food before 9 pm. Because that’s unlikely to happen in the land of the free, it’s important that you do a little bit of restriction in your own house.
- Stopping building on any open space where children play. Or if you unluckily don’t live near a playground (like me), you can still expose your child to the outdoors.
- A high-quality youth center for every 5,000 young people. Would that count as “infrastructure” under the new stimulus package?
The report is in a book called A Good Childhood.