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Why we have the unhappiest children in Europe.


In the 1970s, when Professor Terry Eagleton began declaiming "we must empower the kids", those of us that had brought up children thought he was merely flexing his Marxist muscles and jumping on yet another bandwagon designed to shock the capitalist establishment.

But we were wrong. His half-baked idea of child emancipation was snatched up by his acolytes, who then went into schools and university education departments to spread the gospel - encouraged, I suppose, by the rise of feminism, which strode to liberate women from the shackles of child-rearing and home-making.

What any mother could have told these zealots is that young children don't want liberating. The constant cry to mothers of "it's not fair!" is proof that children have a built-in need for justice, for rules and for some reassuring adult to set and enforce rules, refusing to let children's bad behaviour go too far before putting an end to it.

Indeed, children's emotional stability and sense of security depends to a large extent on having clear guiding rules by which to live their lives and the knowledge that if they or others break them then some adult will put them on the right road again.

Now, of course, with so many families fragmenting, with a myriad of step-parents and step-siblings, lack of contact with wider family, with mother too busy to cook for the children, play with them, talk to them, hear them read, lay down hose rules and see that they are observed, the task of child-rearing has largely been passed to the children themselves.

At one time, the ignored, deprived or neglected child, brought up in a chaotic household, used to be able to find an oasis of peace and order in school where decisions were made for them, there were clear, reassuring rules and a comforting routine. A place where they could escape the bedlam and uncertainties of home.

Not any more. "Bring yourself up", has progressed to the classroom, where we now have "educate yourselves", with ignorant children expected to decide what subjects they will study, what the curriculum should be, what the exam questions should be, even whether school subjects or exams should exist at all, with the prospect of classrooms being reduced to noisy chaos with tumult, unrelieved, aimless movement about classrooms, with no prospect of any adult to take charge and restore order.

The truth is this: children are merely apprentices in a complex society who know little of life and who need care, reassurance, certainty and consistency as they learn to live in society and become useful citizens and confident individuals. Without clearly defined rules of behaviour, duties, responsibilities appropriate to their age, consistently applied discipline and encouragement, children become no better than feral animals left to live by the laws of the jungle. Casual violence, casual sex, casual drunkenness, an inability to form relationships, deeply unhappy at being forced to be adults before their time.

It is this abrogation of our responsibilities as adults, at home, at school and out in society that has given us the unhappiest children in Europe.

All that "empowering the kids" has done, is give children the message that we don't care what happens to them and they must solve their problems themselves.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 12, 2007
Next Article:Letter: Well said Nigel.

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