Feature

Britain: Where children are a low priority

A report in Britain, <em>A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age,</em> has ignited a debate over the state of child rearing.

Britain is failing its children, said Richard Layard in The Guardian. As a co-author of the report A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age, put out by the Church of England–affiliated Children’s Society, I have documented the sad facts. “The pursuit of private advantage has impinged directly on our children.” British children are the unhappiest of any in the world’s developed countries—only American kids came close to our level of alienation and discontent. Part of the reason is the breakdown of the nuclear family. Children raised by single parents have lower self-esteem and poorer academic achievement than those in traditional homes. But much of the problem lies with a British ethos that places a low priority on children. A culture of “excessive individualism” encourages parents to put themselves first.

 “At last,” said Gill Hornby in the Daily Telegraph. Those of us who stayed home with our kids have been vindicated. We knew all along that the modern value system, “which insists that both parents should work and that child care should be outsourced,” is selfish nonsense. Raising children is a commitment and should be treated as one. The Children’s Society’s report actually recommends that all parents not only take parenting classes, but that they also participate in a “civil birth ceremony”—like a wedding for each newborn—in which they “formally accept the duties they are about to take on.” That may sound “wacky,” but it is worth considering. At least the experts have acknowledged that children fare best when raised by their married parents.

We’ve heard this critique before, said Mark Easton in BBC.com. Many of the criticisms of the modern family in the report are standard “Conservative Party arguments.” But at the same time, some of the report’s recommendations will be anathema to conservatives. It prescribes tax increases, for instance, as well as a “significant redistribution of wealth to counter child poverty.” Even more radical are the proposals to eliminate mandatory school testing, ban all advertising of toys and junk food before 9 p.m., and “prevent building on any open space where children play.” While the overall theme of the report is being generally applauded, the specifics are unlikely to be enacted.

That’s a pity, said Mary Dejevsky in The Independent. We have made it altogether too easy for women to raise their babies on their own. “Generous child tax allowances” and cheap day care have practically promoted “single parenthood as a lifestyle choice.” At the same time, working women are encouraged to stop feeling guilty about leaving their kids, and urged instead to pursue their own personal fulfillment. “Perhaps one of the most pernicious phrases of our age is ‘me-time’—closely followed by the ‘pampering’ too many women think is their right.” If this report does nothing else, it should at least remind us that “having children is about making sacrifices. End of story. If you can’t hack it, don’t have them.”

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