Friday, February 16, 2007

A Valuable Commodity

Children are precious - maybe too precious!

News that GB Ltd has come dead last in a survey of child well-being seems to have outraged the media and sent the Government scrambling to explain that the statistics are out of date/meaningless.

The truth is, of course, the first commodity to get lost in the debate. Or, to put it another way, the truth is that the debate is focussing on the wrong issues.

Britain's children are last in family and peer relationships, and behaviour and risks (whatever they are ?) and almost last in subjective well-being and material well-being. Overall the impression is one of deprived and chronically abused children as the norm. What a load of old rubbish!

The fact is: children (and families in general) have never had it so good!

Sociologically speaking we are on the crest of a wave and riding along at breakneck speed towards a bright and beautiful future.

So, why the gloomy survey? Simple. They asked the wrong questions of the wrong people. Unicef sponsored the survey. Therefore, presumably they surveyed young people. On their website Unicef conclude: in rich countries children’s basic needs have been generally met but there is scope for further progress in child well-being. In other words, things could be better. If someone could specify some aspect of human civilization that could not do with some improvement, I'd be grateful. To characterize children in Britain as somehow falling behind others in Europe is just nonsense.

Unfortunately, nowhere on the web site does it tell us the methodology involved in gathering the data for this survey. I've got money to bet that the “statistics” came from the children themselves. Ask any child if, for example, they find their peers kind and helpful (one of the actual questions) and it's not hard to predict the answer. Perhaps the question seems somehow better when asked in Norwegian or Swedish? Who knows?

These type of surveys are next to useless in determining the basis for providing services. Ask any group in society if things are great and you will get the same answer, “Of course not!” Anyone who thinks differently is either very naive or very intellectually challenged!

What is important, however, is how children live today. Their life style goes a long way to explaining the results of the survey. There is no doubt that children's aspirations and expectations have changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Just look at your street. Most of the houses will be the traditional 3 bedrooms. Many will have been built more than 50 years ago. What was the average family size in, say 1900? From the net: Family size declined between 1800 and 1900 from 7.0 to 3.5 children (4). In 1900, six to nine of every 1000 women died in childbirth, and one in five children died during the first 5 years of life.* Distributing information and counselling patients about contraception and contraceptive devices was illegal under federal and state laws (8,9); the timing of ovulation, the length of the fertile period, and other reproductive facts were unknown.

Family size increased from 1940 until 1957 (Figure 1), when the average number of children per family peaked at 3.7 (14,15; CDC, unpublished data, 1999).

Without blinding you with science, the facts are family sizes are now very much smaller than they have been. Therefore, each child is by definition more precious than ever – and treated as such with their own room and own TV, stereo, computer, Uncle Tom Cobley and all! When one in five of your children would be dead before they reached 5, it did not pay to get too attached to them or spend too much of the families limited resources on them. No doubt that parents were just as distraught then as now when a child was lost – but at least they were prepared for it. Whole families were wiped out by diseases that today are just a nuisance. It was the norm.

The result? Children were viewed very differently and saw their roles differently as well.

Now, instead of being an investment for the future, children became a precious commodity to be indulged and acquiesced to at will. Instead of being a source of pride in their achievements children became a mirror of their parents insecurities. When each child is likely to live, parents devote more time and effort into each individual and have far fewer children. Therefore, the child who struggles at school must be a victim of the system. The child who is uncontrollable at home and in the community must be pandered to and the state's responsibility.

Children have become too valuable for parents to ignore. Children who are a disappointment to their parents are not allowed to be. It must be someone else's fault.

The Unicef survey simply confirms what thinking people already know. In Western industrialised society children have everything they need to succeed, yet some fail.

This is not society's fault. It's just the way things work.

No comments: