Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The worst place to bring up children

Another day and another survey about child rearing. This time on the best countries in Europe for children to grow up. The UK ranks 24 on the list apparently, cue much navel gazing in the British media about the breakdown of the family, being too PC, and how one should bring back the birch, hanging and the stocks.

As someone who is bringing up her child overseas, this is something I often think about. There are pros and cons of anywhere. I like Hong Kong because it is very safe, the Chinese love children and so Eve is welcome almost anywhere, and there are lots of beaches, parks and most things are free. The schools are good, there is a good work ethic, we live close to a lot of very interesting places and countries and have a much more diverse group of friends than we would if we were in London. I don't like the pollution, the almighty dollar mentality, and some of the manners. But, for a child, it is a great place and I am happy for Eve to grow up here.

Which got me thinking about what it is about the UK that makes people think it is so bad for children. Whenever I go back and spend time there with Eve, and with my niece and nephews, it strikes me as a great place for children. Lots of open spaces, great museums, free and plentiful libraries and playgrounds, Europe so close. OK so the state school system gets a lot of knocks, but it isn't so bad (I went to one of London's sink schools until I was 16 and turned out OK), and it is free and with parental involvement works very well. Having read the article a number of times, I can't see what is so bad about the UK that can't squarely be laid at the feet of parents themselves for not taking advantage of all of this.

I would be interested in hearing from other Mummies, and non-Mummies, about where they live and what they think.


Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

So much to say, don't know where to start!

Britain can be a wonderful place to bring up kids. Like you say there is a lot to do there, much of it free. But I think some of the problems lie with the stress and expectations that parents put onto their children, not letting them have time to think, discover, imagine and explore for themselves. There is also a tendency to demonise in the media, so any pasty, spotty, 15 year old in a hoody is seen as bad bad bad. But loads of 15 year olds are pasty and spotty. If the expectation is that they will be bad, then they will live up to it.

Too much to write on just a comment, such a big topic. You've inspired me. I shall think about it more today and come back to you with a more considered opinion that will hopefully make a bit more sense. I'm very interested to see what anyone else thinks too.

Mummy said...

FM - Compared to HK, children in the UK have no expectations placed upon them! A child psychologist friend of mine who practices here says the biggest problem she faces in her nice private practice are children with stress. There is such high expectation on children here to achieve, and their "free" time is filled with classes and activities.

Eve is the only child of her age I know who is not already taking classes, at nursery, or learning a language. I even have a friend who has had her child at mandarin classes since her was one year old. He couldn't even walk then.

Sabina said...

Personally - as someone who is neither British nor schooled in the UK, but has been living in London for 18+ years - I feel the issue is 2-sided: on the one hand you have the classic middle-class parents who fret and panic about not getting their children into 'the right schools', paying inflated hourly fees for private tutors to prep them for entrance exams and then (when they do get accepted) worry about how they will fund the exorbitant fees (Al, like you I went thru the state school system, in Italy to boot, and it also did me no harm). This is now changing with the impact of the credit crunch and - as a last resort - parents withdrawing children from the vastly overpriced private schooling sector. Hopefully the state sector will benefit as the 'quality' of attending children will level out more.
On the other side you have a generation (or two) of parents who could not give a monkeys what their kids are up to, whether they attend school let alone finish it and get a job, and believe the world owes them a living and why work when benefits foot every bill (the UK is not alone here, it seems to be an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon that applies to varying degrees worldwide and I have seen it as far afield as Australia).
So the kids have no understanding of respect (for property, people or otherwise), zero social graces (beyond typical teenage rebellion, I am talking under 10s as well), and appalling manners.
Ultimately what makes the child is the parent, so regardless of where you live it is this that makes a place truly wonderful, not the other way around.