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.