Thursday, 10 March 2011

All "Wow-ed Out".

There is an interesting phenomenon I have recently (and belatedly) become acutely aware of. It's not new, but is certainly becoming more prevalent. It's a pretty shocking in its apparent stupidity and appears to deviate from past dichotomies in society, which have long been profoundly entrenched.

I'm referring to the apparent need of some (mostly upper middle class) parents to appear to forget all reason and scale and indulge their children to obscene degrees almost as if they are forgetting that they are in fact children, and (unless visiting from some parallel universe where money does indeed grow on trees) children who will one day have to make at least some attempt at forging their own path in life. The children with every adult techno gadget available, with the adult designer labels I personally would covet if there were any likelihood of me obtaining them who are hurtling towards a kind of pre-pubescent immature adult status faster than their parents can offer the latest iPad.

The irony is that these children are usually the very ones who were spoilt toddlers and pre-schoolers, indulged with everything from the Great Little Trading Co. catalogue, the entire Mini Boden range at full price (rather than second hand via eBay or in their sale) and encouraged to stay young and pampered for so much longer than many of their peers. The thirteen year olds with the iPhone 4, iPad 2 and £1000 Jack Wills birthday spending voucher who have skipped so many years and hurtled into late teens/early adulthood from a delayed early childhood. At some point their parents appear to have decided that they no longer fit the "child" category and accept them as peers, negotiating allowances, bonuses and a social life most of us would be rather enviable of.

I do think Facebook, MySpace and all other social networking sites have a lot to answer for. Far too many youngsters are on Facebook long before thirteen, and even at that young age they are exposed to adult conversation and social interaction which in the past would they would not have been privy to. My son is a "friend" on Facebook, mainly so I can keep an eye on him but I think carefully before posting as HIS friends will obviously see some of what I post via his Wall. Why have we in the West been so eager to let our children rush the growing up process? It's a hard world out there... and some things are best left until later.

What on earth is the point of spoiling your children to the "n"th degree with no regard for childhood needs? Apart from anything else, how can you maintain the pace? A makeover party at six, a smart phone at eleven (on the internet, which you pay for and have virtually no control over) and a wardrobe to die for at thirteen. Not much left, is there? Oh, and the chauffeured car to a London show and the day trip to Spain - both PRIMARY age parties I have learned of too. What on *earth* is left? What value can these children possibly attach to life's rewards? They are, indeed, all "Wow-ed out". No excitement left, no opportunities to earn rewards, learn job satisfaction or experience that fabulous feeling only working really hard for a long time for something special can bring.

We are in grave danger of leaving our children with no aspirations, no excitement, no treats for the future. It is a sharp deviation from the clear child/adult distinction of the past, with the exception of the modern super rich celebs who are perhaps the leaders of this trend. There have always been economic variations and a spectrum of what children enjoy but families of different means on the whole agreed that children were children and treated as such.

We've just returned from the children's swimming lessons where two girls about age 12 were wearing Jack Wills/Joules/Uggs/insert trendy casual designer of your choice, and were carrying handbags I would be chuffed to bits to own. They both had iPhone 4s AND Pandora bracelets whilst their Mum was dressed almost identically. Pandora? At a SWIMMING lesson? Seriously. And then there's the child whose mother bought him an iPhone to keep him busy on the school bus - at age 10. He lost it a week later (unsurprisingly) having run up a considerable bill for internet usage.

These are not meant to be the trappings of childhood.... surely a subscription to the local Pony Club or karting lessons would be more appropriate if parents have more money than they know what to do with? We are very fortunate,and our children don't do badly but they are children, and I am thankful their wants (so far!) have not escalated to such heights. It is incredibly tough being a parent today, there are so many temptations to navigate both ourselves and our children safely through but if we drop our guard and give in we do them a tremendous disservice. After all, very few of us are likely to be able to keep our children in the manner to which too many are becoming accustomed once they have left home and at some point the hard lessons of life will have to be learnt. The chances of them all landing such affluent lifestyles are slim, and we would be setting them up for a very steep fall.

A study out this week suggested British children are amongst the unhappiest in the Western World, and small wonder. Their simple pleasures are being destroyed or removed by Health and Safety concerns, media exaggerated scares and too many well-off kids are being completely deprived of being just that - kids. We are confusing our children and setting them a largely impossible challenge in life, that of finding happiness and satisfaction when everything they could ever aim for has been handed them on a plate.

6 comments:

  1. An interesting article, many points with which I agree, in theory at least; after all I am much older than you & therefore grew up much closer to the Victorian ideas on child rearing. But to play Devil's advocate for a while - who was it that made the rules that 'these experiences' & 'these commodities' are for 'grown-ups' only? Was it us arrogant 'grown-ups' who, not so long ago, believed that children should be 'seen & not heard', that girls were not really worth educating & that young boys were quite useful when we thought that we should go & fight a war somewhere. With the technology that we have today can we really expect our children to be contented with the simpler pass-times of yesteryear? Their brains are like sponges, programmed to soak up all available knowledge, using all of their senses; involving plenty of 'doing' & experiencing so that memories can be formed. So I say - let the children enjoy the technology, they're better at it than us anyway & who knows, one day, some little tot, using way more of his brain than we know how to, may make some earth-shattering discovery for the benefit of us all! Let the babes & the 'tweens' wear the designer labels, they often look better in them than the 20 & 30 somethings do & most likely when they're older they'll appreciate the value of being an individual rather than one of the 'sheep'. Maybe it's not a bad thing for there to be a shift in our society - the young children being free to randomly explore & experience, then when they're ready to procreate, they have to learn all the basic earthly skills to become good parents & produce healthy babies. Later when they get to my age, they'll probably be more than ready to start abandoning the unnecessary embellishments to life & just go where their hearts lead them. As for the financial aspect to all this - we cannot give to our children what we don't have to give - If they are educated to understand this from the beginning they will not ask for more. One of the important lessons in life is that we are not all equal on this planet - sad, but true -

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  2. I think you miss my point Annee... access to technology is a good thing, over-indulgence across the board is not. Owning your own iPhone is very very different from knowing how to use one. My comment about having access to adult things was not confined to technology, more having it all too early - the clothes, the "high society" trips and excursion... the £1000 Jack Wills clothing voucher was a real example, not a fictional one. Absurd!

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  3. No, I didn't miss your point at all, Kate. I am aware of a large number of young woman who think exactly as you do & we frequently have discussions around this subject at my pottery groups. There has recently been a great deal of backlash in the media here, along the same lines; snide comments about celebrities children's clothes, outrage at the appearance of the new Barbie, arguments about whether pre-teens should have their own mobile phones, what are acceptable gifts for birthdays, & on & on....... It's as though they feel a beast has been unleashed, it's become scarey & now they desperately want to get it back in it's cage!! Isn't everything relative? what a multi millionaire gives his children in the way of material possessions is just on a different scale, that's all. If you have the means, what is so wrong with letting your children have their own stuff? at the same time you can still be teaching them to be good people! Why should certain things have to be waited for unnecessarily? Children don't want stuff that they are not interested in - their needs indicate the stage of their brain development at any particular time. I believe that what is happening is just a natural progression in Homo sapiens & because our knowledge is expanding so rapidly, who can predict what aspirations our children may be striving for in a decade or so? The stuff we're thinking we should hold back from them now may be all obsolete sooner than we think!!

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  4. Well I disagree totally... I don't think it is ever good to have what you want, when you want it. Sends totally the wrong messages to the next generation. How on earth can we teach them important values when everything is there immediately for the taking? It's the access to too much, too easily. Do you seriously think owning the top smart phone at 13 for playing with it on the school bus is good? That child will have no concept of the real value of things, losing it a week later has no impact when replacement costs run into many hundreds of pounds that someone has worked very very hard for - and someone else could do an awful lot more with! I think you place too much hope on man's innate sense of right and wrong - sadly that is rarely the case. (Lord of the Flies anyone?) Having everything today makes for a dull/thrill lacking tomorrow and such kids are often those who end up seeking such excitement from the party scene, drugs and alcohol. They are the children who so often drift without purpose or direction. If everything is free and immediate what's the point?

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  5. I just don't think that material possessions are the cause of problems with our young people. I don't believe a child can be 'spoilt' by having stuff lavished upon them; I believe children are spoilt by abandonment, abuse, neglect, not being shown a good example, not being given a minimum of a good education in life skills, not being taught values, not being shown sympathy, empathy, respect. If you have brought up your child to be a good person in a loving & stable environment, giving them an i-phone when they're 13 won't suddenly undo that. A 13 year old will know exactly what it costs & understand it's value in relation to the families financial status. If losing something has no impact on a child, whether it's an i-phone, a sweater or a book, it can only be because they've been shown the attitude -'oh well, it doesn't matter, we'll just buy another one'. I don't think it's kids with loads of gadgets that turn to drugs; I think it's kids suffering from abandonment, neglect, lack of education & malnutrition, [due to consuming large amounts of 'junk' foods] I don't actually hold out a great amount of hope for mans innate sense of right & wrong, [at least not until the malnutrition thing gets sorted] & I think a large part of the reason for our strong disagreement is a 'baby boomer' v ' gen.X ' mindset. I believe this because my own daughter thinks almost exactly like you do & I've had this same discussion with her!! I would think that if you've witnessed kids behaving badly who just happen to have i-phones or whatever else, that the bad behaviour is more a reflection of their bad upbringing.......

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  6. The possessions are not the problem so much as the expectation created by giving everything asked for, immediately. That destroys and values parents might have tried to instil into/teach their children straight away.

    It's not enough to teach by words, we need to teach by example and I know far too many kids with ridiculous expectations (- not even aspirations, nothing wrong with aspirations) by buying expensive items without expecting some degree of effort/patience/appreciation and understanding from our children we are not teaching them the very values you mention.

    Lavishing possessions on our children doesn't lead them to drugs etc but it is part and parcel of the current "have it all" culture which leaves our children with little to aim for and few ideas of how to do it.

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Many thanks for taking the time to comment, I really value your responses.

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