The English have never been famous for their parenting skills or their food. The food has lately got a lot better but parenting sadly has not. British schoolchildren are unhappier than children in Ethiopia and Algeria because they are bullied, left out by their peers and under pressure to look good, according to a study carried out over the last decade by the University of York, commissioned by The Children’s Society.
English children ranked 14th out of 15 countries for overall life satisfaction, just ahead of South Korea, and scored low for aspects related to their ‘self’ and school. They were particularly unhappy as a result of being ‘bullied or feeling left out. ‘More than a third of English students aged ten and twelve reported being physically bullied in the last month, and half had felt excluded at school. Levels of unhappiness at school were even higher among teenagers.’
It doesn’t take ten years of research find out whether bullying and exclusion make people of any age unhappy, that is pretty obvious. Many of us of an older generation, remembering our own school days, might ask where are the parents to comfort their children, and more importantly the parents who stop their children turning into bullies? Apparently they are not around anymore. The report examined the experiences of 53,000 children and found bullied youngsters in England are six times more likely to have low well-being than those who had not been bullied. Again that is blindingly obvious, but sadly much of the unhappiness it found was also about cultural values; girls in England were second lowest for happiness with their body confidence, self-confidence and appearance, just above South Korea, and behind more traditional countries including Colombia, Turkey, Spain and Poland.
English girls, like the ones shown in many US teen films, are now being extensively bullied on account of appearance. They are judged too fat, too thin, too this or that by their peers. Evil messages appear on their screens during school and at home, and again it seems parents, particularly mothers who were once close to their daughters, seem powerless to stop it, or perhaps too tired to care.
So children in Ethiopia and Algeria, two of the most impoverished places on earth, are happier than well fed comfortably kept English kids. I suspect, although it would be dangerous to say it out loud, that the happier children have their mothers at home with them. Again obvious, at least to me, who would not benefit from having someone close by attending to every need, as mothers traditionally did, even in poor households?
In the UK 14 million women are now in full time work. In 2007, 599,000 mothers with very young families had full-time jobs.Today there are 746,000 of them. Last year the Office for National Statistics showed 2.2million mothers with dependent children have a full-time job, equivalent to around 30 per cent of all mothers. This means there are now more mothers working full-time than the number staying at home, who now total only two million.
In the old days foreigners noted the cruelty of the British towards their children, particularly the custom of farming them out at a very early age to more prestigious families, where they would act as retainers. Later children were sent off to boarding school very young and maternal deprivation was almost universal among the middle classes. Now we farm the mother’s out for cash, while feminists and government economists actively deny that there is any such thing as maternal deprivation. This new culture was captured for me by a story on the front page of some newspapers on August 19th 2015, showing the smiling but androgynous face of Laura Wade-Gery, thickly bespectacled and short haired, named one of Britain’s most powerful female executives. She’s tipped to take over at M & S, ‘after ten years at Tesco,’ and about to become a mother for the first time at the age of fifty. Despite this long wait, Ms Wade-Gery intends to have her baby cared for by someone else very promptly and be back at her desk by January.
Looking glossy and sleek in what look like M & S clothes, poised on an M & S dove grey sofa, Ms Wade-Gery who is married to someone with a different surname, presents the epitome of what a woman should be, at least according to the government which is desperate for money, and the liberal elite who say women should work outside the home to fulfill themselves.The reality of course is different. Going out to work rather than staying at home does not confer status on most women. Women in traditional societies are respected as mothers, but in western developed nations they are not respected at home, or in the work place. Women generally do low-paid boring work, because they have to.
As Siobhan Freegard, founder of the Netmums website, recently put it: ‘You need to be in a two-income family to simply make ends meet. Six in ten mothers say to me they are only returning to work for financial reasons. If it was not for the money, they would not go back after maternity leave. The vast majority of mums are going back to work in jobs, not careers. It is not about choosing a more fulfilling job in a field such as a law. It is about going back to a supermarket or looking after other people’s children in a nursery.’
The Children’s Society Survey reveals not just unhappy children but a self-deceiving culture of unhappy mothers with unhappy children, and parents with no time to spend with their families. For a prosperous, rich country like England, surely there has been a wrong turning somewhere?