The kids are not alright. Why not?

What makes a child happy?
Heretic TOC readers, thoughtful and Kind in all senses, as I believe you generally are, will see this as an important question. So it should trouble us that a recent Children’s Society report found a decline in children’s happiness in the UK over the last decade as judged by a range of factors affecting their sense of wellbeing, such as whether they are being bullied at school, or neglected at home, or even whether, in food bank Britain, they are going hungry.

Not a care in the world… for now

Anxiety about their job prospects, the state of the environment and their own future mental health were also raised as issues in the survey of children aged 10-17, published as The Good Childhood Report 2019. Over the last 14 years around 67,000 young people have been involved in the society’s research programme, which comprises quantitative surveys alongside classroom consultations, focus groups and interviews.
It may be recalled that H-TOC took its own in-depth look at children’s mental health in a three-part blog under the “driving kids crazy” heading three years ago. See here, here and here. Key themes from that trilogy will be touched on below but first let’s take a look at this latest survey. For a broad overview of the statistics there is perfectly adequate coverage in the Guardian. Rather than reviewing the whole survey, though, I think it will be more illuminating to focus on a single aspect for what it says about the approach taken, which I will argue is sophisticated and has produced important results to which political attention should certainly be paid, but…
There are important matters on which the report is utterly silent.
Let’s start, though, by giving credit where it’s due. For instance, the survey has an in-depth analysis of children’s worries about the future, part of which is detailed in Figure 9 of the summary report. The anxieties listed in this chart, notably worrying about the future state of the environment, will probably strike us as entirely rational. Far from showing there is anything wrong with the kids, the extensive concern over this topic (over three quarters being at least a little worried) shows they are intelligently alert to the real dangers of climate change, plastic pollution and so on – an alertness increasingly witnessed in mass demonstrations such as we saw just a couple of days ago.
If there is any misplaced anxiety it appears to be not the children’s but the Children’s Society’s. The report says “it is the extent of children’s worry that is of most concern” and “It is important that we acknowledge these worries, monitor them and respond to them in order to reduce the amount of worry children are experiencing and promote positive well-being.” What we should all be worried about, surely, is tackling and solving the problems in question, not worrying about whether kids worry about them.
A separate chart (Figure 8: see below) sets out the children’s anxieties about their own futures, including their school grades, university admission, jobs, having enough money and somewhere to live, mental health and physical well being. What the survey very usefully did in this regard was to look beyond the overall figures. There was an additional focus on the minority of children (1 in 9 of them) whose other survey responses indicated they had low life satisfaction. These were significantly more worried about all seven aspects of their future than other children.

This sub-analysis revealed that the largest gap in worries was for future mental health. Children who currently had low life satisfaction were almost three times as likely to be quite or very worried about their future mental health as other children. Now that really is a worry, especially in relation to other studies – previously discussed, as I say, in Heretic TOC – that disclose real reasons to be concerned over children’s actual rather than just future mental health, as shown in findings of extensive self-harming, depression and suicidality.
Again to their credit, the Children’s Society does go on to address the implications of its findings for society at large, pointing out, for instance:

Record investment in NHS mental health services for children is accompanied by massive cuts to children’s social care. More children go to outstanding schools than ever before at the same time as unprecedented food bank use by families struggling to put meals on the table. We are not seeing children and young people in the round.

Also, the Children’s Society has focused this time solely on children’s own views and feelings rather than letting parents or others speak for them. They say:

…young people need to be heard, but without them being able to vote how do we ensure that their views are taken seriously and acted upon? There are lots of approaches in policy-making that could be used to achieve this – from more passive options like advisory boards and impact assessments, to more active ones like participatory budgeting, citizen assemblies, and co-production in service design.

All good stuff. Sensible, imaginative suggestions, although a reduction in the voting age should be considered as well.
So much for the good news. But now we need to put our radical, critical, hat on and start thinking in earnest. The sense I get from the report is that it has successfully located a problem – children’s increasing unhappiness – but that the questions it is posing are too limited, with the result that the data the survey has come up with tell us more about symptoms than causes.
For instance, the “cyber” factor (see Figure 9, summary report) focused on children’s worries about personal information being shared online. This is unquestionably a serious issue, especially for teenagers in connection with cyber-bullying, which can have devastating consequences, not least when intimate photos intended for just one recipient are put on general view by that person, whether to show off or as an act of revenge following rejection in a relationship.
So the problem is well known. It did not take a survey for us to hear about it. The problems to which the online world has given rise tend to be the focus of intense scrutiny and (often justified) anxiety simply because the technology is so new and constantly changing. The temptation in these circumstances in to blame the tech and overlook the deeper reasons why kids might be behaving viciously towards each other. Same with the fear of crime that features so strongly in these figures, being right up there with environmental worries as a major concern. While many British children live in reasonably safe circumstances, others do not, especially those suffering multiple disadvantages in areas of squalid, run-down housing, low incomes, and a drugs and gang culture increasingly associated with a spectacular increase in knife attacks.
Now the observation that children – or anyone – stuck in a bad environment will behave badly is hardly a great revelation either. There is actually a long tradition, going back well over a hundred years, of social surveys linking deprivation to depravity in one form or another, with Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth as early pioneers focusing on the poor of London in Victorian times.
Interestingly, the Children’s Society has always been a part of that tradition, having been founded by Sunday School teacher Edward Rudolf as the Church of England Central Home for Waifs and Strays, in 1881, after he had seen for himself “the brutal effects of poverty on the lives of children”. Over the years, the society appears to have made commendable efforts to keep up with the times in identifying and meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, starting with children’s homes, then going on to become a major adoption agency and now offering a wide range of support services.
But then, in the society’s online history, we find a hint that heretics here might not see entirely eye to eye with them:

The charity’s direct practice now focuses on vulnerable children and young people aged 10 to 18 – including children who have been sexually exploited, children in care and young refugees.

It is, of course, the focus on “sexual exploitation” that will raise our suspicions. Yes, some children are sexually exploited and, yes, their needs should be addressed. But what we have reason to suspect is that this churchy outfit has a long history of attitudes shared with the prudish, sexually restrictive social purity movement that succeeded in pushing for an increased age of consent in the same decade as the Children’s Society had its beginnings.
Accordingly, we need not be surprised when we find – as we do – that asking the children about their feelings and opinions, and ensuring that “their views are taken seriously and acted upon” does not extend to putting any questions in the survey about how happy or unhappy they are over their sexual desires and frustrations.
Nor are the children asked any questions that might seem to encourage them to aspire to real freedom and choice in their lives in ways that might imperil the timid, over-protective, health and safety culture of our times – even though, as I believe, along with such thoughtful commentators as sociologist Frank Furedi and Free Range Kids founder Lenore Skenazy, the most profound underlying reason for children’s unhappiness as they grow beyond dependent infancy is the restrictions unreasonably placed on them these days.

Indulgence: not the same as happiness. With thanks to a Guardian Weekend magazine cover for a feature titled “A greedy person’s guide to summer”

Not that children are necessarily aware of what they are missing. They are not like ardent Brexiteers who feel they have lost out and demand to Take Back Control. Parents, teachers and other adults have always been firmly in charge of these young lives. So 10-year-olds, or even most teenagers, will be unaware of earlier eras when kids could venture far and wide on their own, or with their mates. They won’t realise that being held prisoners in their own bedrooms with only a virtual reality world for comfort denies their birthright to grow and mature through interaction with real reality – a reality that includes nature in all its wonder and also teeming, exciting urban life, with its people of all ages, all genders (more than two these days!), and all sorts of characters, a few of whom will be downright dangerous to mix or mess with, but most will prove friendly, interesting, helpful and educative.
Accordingly, because youngsters largely don’t know what they are missing, and how much fuller life could be, they are unlikely to notice that the Children’s Society, and others such as the Children’s Commissioner, make great play of the need to listen to the views of the young but tend to avoid asking kids anything that might tempt them to make an escape bid from their virtual prisons.
Steering clear of such questions might seem the responsible thing to do. After all, as the conventional wisdom has it, kids need to be protected from their own naivety and from falling into bad company. But how well is that going right now? Cocooned in their sedentary domestic cells, youngsters are getting fat and unfit, which brings its own serious risks of diabetes, heart disease and other life-threatening ills. Meanwhile, drug lords run rings around the “protective” system anyway, recruiting the most vulnerable teenagers and even younger kids to do their dirty work for them as “county lines” dealers.
There is a case to be made that the best protection policy would be two-fold: (1) focus on reducing the child poverty and other forms of deprivation that make some children very open to exploitation; this should be very do-able in our fundamentally wealthy but very unequal society; (2) allow kids to become streetwise – or, rather, to become shrewd judges of character and life’s pitfalls –  through gradual exposure to the world beyond their home in such places as youth clubs. There used to be far more of them in the UK, before all the “austerity” of recent years. And they did a good job.
None of these observations of mine will come as a surprise to heretics here, so let me end with something a bit more intellectually challenging, that could take us all out of our comfort zone.
Do children need to be happy? Or, rather, do they need to think about their own happiness? The pursuit of happiness is famously written into the US Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right. But whether we become happy by pursuing happiness is a very doubtful proposition. Arguably, many adults in our consumer society are encouraged to worship a false god, hoping to make themselves happy through buying ever more “stuff” – material goods we do not really need. So to encourage children to fuss over their own happiness, by asking them to rate it, might just be gratuitously making them self-centred and potentially greedy. Even kids’ excessive agonising over their own appearance, leading to such problems as anorexia and other manifestations of “body dysmorphia”, might be part of a related problem.
I came across a fascinating article the other day by Peter Stearns, a specialist in the history of emotions. “Happy Children: A Modern Emotional Commitment”, reveals, as the title suggests, that focusing on children’s happiness is really a very recent concern, and is still not a feature of all cultures. Children’s birthday parties, for instance, were a mid-19th-century innovation. As for birthday gifts, when they first started the birthday boy or girl was expected to give the presents, not receive them! In his opening paragraph the author says, “Explaining the intensification of the happiness commitment also reveals some of the downsides of this aspect of popular emotional culture, for example in measurably complicating reactions to childish unhappiness.”
While I make no recommendation that we should return to an era of indifference towards children’s happiness, it may be that we should be more concerned with their wider well being, including such factors as whether they are developing worthwhile goals in life. What do you think?
 
BURSTING WITH AMBITION
A lighter note to end on now. A young research psychologist had occasion to mention an amusing encounter in his childhood online recently. I’ll leave him to tell the story in his own words:

My grandmother used to take me to Pride every year. We’d sit on two little blue-green chairs together, enjoying the spectacle. One of my favourite things was picking up the condoms that would be tossed by some of the floats, and then filling them with water, and then dropping them from the third floor of my grandmother’s building. You’d be surprised how much water a condom can contain before it BURSTS.
As I was gathering up as many condoms as my little hands could carry, I have a memory of a well muscled shirtless man handing me a few more condoms and warmly saying, “Well aren’t you ambitious!”

 
 

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Cyril

There exist no perfect people,
parents cannot be sublime —
that is why keeping the little
in their families is crime.
That’s kidnapping if you cannot
run from family you hate,
or you are in the same manner
kept in children’s homes by state.

Cyril

There exist no perfect people,
parents cannot be sublime —
that is why keeping the little
in their families is crime.
That’s kidnapping if you cannot
run from family you hate,
or in analogous manner
kept in children’s homes by state.

Explorer

There is a petition to legalise paedophilia on Change.org:
https://www.change.org/p/onu-legalization-of-pedophilia-2020
I wonder for how long it will remain there before Change.org will remove it, pressed by a barrage of teeth-gnashingly outraged complaints (which, I suspect, is an inevitable end of it)…

Explorer

Oh, it took just 2 days for the Change.org to take the page down. Hoped for a somewhat longer time period…

Debauch

This guy is still producing good blogs:https://eivindberge.blogspot.com

Debauch

Tom, did you listen to the interview with Harvey Proctor…..There was two interviews with him, it is hard not to be moved by what he went through. Then we have Tom Watson who used his parliamentary privileges to push through this case.

Debauch

“with its people of all ages, all genders”…….Only two genders that I know of, I’m not trying to b e provocative. Or is that just another way of referring to male and female. The latter is probably correct.

Debauch

But the Hijras and mostly not born with intersex characteristics, nirwaan, which involves the removal of the penis, scrotum and testicles. So that is a cultural intervention.

Explorer

There is an interesting blog post by a British political dissident Craig Murray (whose writings I recommend in general), which is somewhat relevant to the Heretic TOC, since it discusses the importance of non-verbal signs of consent / assent. In Craig’ blog, of course, a teleiophilic, rather than paedophilic, sexuality was being discussed… yet the questions that were risen by him are important in a peadophilic context as well:
https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2019/10/an-unpopular-article/
In fact, I recall the Tom’s post that explored somewhat similar ideas and problems:
https://tomocarroll.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/negotiating-a-little-girls-knickers-down/
So, what do you think of it?

Debauch

For someone supposed to be the cleverest man in England, when is comes to paedophilia, there is no grey areas. Go to 2:21:20
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS7rxQwbGJ8

Debauch

Yes it is the other guy that I’m referring to; George refers to him as the cleverest man in England, and I noted the time on the video that he briefly discussed paedphilia. they were discussing the Duke of York so normal heterosexuality for young post-pubescent girls would be more accurate. For someone with such a wealth of knowledge on many subjects, I just thought he of all people would not be so steadfast and show more nuance.

eqfoundation

I think the typical childhood is both happy and unhappy, in alternation…and this is normal…No big revelation there, I know…
Nobody needs a charmed childhood…but everybody needs enough stability and happiness in childhood, to stave off a bout of mental illness.
I could share a lot of stories, anecdotal from my own life, which were very dark and stormy…cruel, in some instances…things I don’t believe I ever deserved experiencing…a few of which really hurt me deep…but I still think my boyhood was overall decent…even though it was volatile…the good was rather good…the bad was really bad.
But then…nobody tried to murder me, and I wasn’t punched in the face every other week…so…I guess, relative to what’s possible…again…I consider my boyhood to have been decent, on average.
I never really thought of life in terms of long term happiness…I suppose it’s because I realized, I would not be getting out of life what would make “me” happy and fulfilled.
I don’t know that happiness is the most important question, especially when the world seems conspired against so many of us, to deny it.
I think purpose and drive are at least as important…to be able to build towards some accomplishment…Maybe you don’t have to be happy…You just need to be open to the bits of happiness, which you stumble upon in life?
At times, when I’ve been thinking more deep on these questions…I’ve wondered to myself…whether it would be most humane for the human species to have gone extinct, and just sidesteped all the cruel B.S. humans tend to put each other through.
That may sound rather dark…and I am not the best person to make such a call [obviously]…Yet, I see modern “developed cultures” as being little more than exploitation machines…They may keep you alive a bit longer…but what for?…To serve the machine?
To my mind, there is no mystery in why suicide is so rampant…even in “the greatest” civilizations.
They don’t want a nation of individuals…They want to be The Borg.
Individuals get in the way.
These systems inherently make people unhappy…sometimes miserable…maybe even mentally ill.
I feel bad for children…They just don’t know what they are in for…not really.

eqfoundation

“Don’t hold back if it would help. We would be interested. But I can well understand you might find it too hard. I wouldn’t want to be intrusive.”
I think it’s best not to, today. But, thank you. I’ve actually written some about this in the past…possibly posting it on BoyChat, during an era which is now lost “in a black hole”, because the backup got lost…along with the archivist.
Thank you for that link…I’ll come back to this.

David Rogers

Thanks for your heartfelt contribution!
“I think purpose and drive are at least as important”, but these are, for the most partly, only distractions. Happiness is in things that are making life worthwhile. But these things exist in grades, some things are just contributing more, much more, to this than others. Like relationships you long for or desire. If you have no way of attaining these ties, based on love and tenderness, all the rest, well, is, for the most part, just distraction.
Tom has described, in Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons, this desire of a bond, imho, in the most beautiful way, on the top of p.331:
“I can imagine Michael being as powerless to make someone want him as
most of us have on occasion been. It hurts. It’s sad. At moments like that you
have no power at all. You are a supplicant. You are on bended knees. You
are vulnerable. A beggar merely. And if you are lucky, if your child takes pity
on you, you may be thrown a crumb of comfort. He may give you the gift it
is only his to give, the gift that it is quite impossible for you to take without
his giving it: his warmth, his approval, his love. He, your child, is the
custodian of that, and at such a time there is no-one richer or more powerful
than he.”
You must be, I suppose, a lot more ascetic than I am, to accept “purpose and drive” as a substitute for this.

eqfoundation

Thank you, for the “thank you”! 😉
I guess you could say I’ve been decent at redirecting my energy and desires…at least in this regard to my life.
I am the sort of person, who could easily be a social hermit, yes…Well…provided I was able to provide for my own needs, that is.
In addition, I never had any expectation of attaining this form of love, myself…So, it’s not really like I feel my life plans were destroyed.
The points that radicalized me, were those that made me understand just how our kind has been mercilessly manipulated…and what a house of cards we’ve been subjected to.

djvinno

Earlier you wrote,
“Maybe you don’t have to be happy…You just need to be open to the bits of happiness, which you stumble upon in life?”
This strikes a chord with me, and it’s something I endeavor very earnestly to convey to as many people as I can. Since traveling in southern Africa years ago I have had a piercing ability to see this in action in real time.
There is a popular line in our wealthier cultures that goes like this, speaking of the Poor Other: “They’re poor but they’re happy”
It is bullshit, of course. Mostly bullshit. The grain of truth relates to your point. It is that those with little material wealth and minimal investment in the fantasy of attaining it are indeed much more sensible to or open to happiness. They feel their misery keenly, and for many of those I’ve come to know misery is the rule–not the exception–but like a light-weight vehicle accelerating rapidly, when faced with favorable circumstances they simply experience happiness. The radiance of the smiles on the faces of impoverished folks with stunted growth and skinny limbs–irrefutable evidence of chronic suffering–is simply a matter of responding to a moment of connection with a human behind a camera, and more pointedly a moment of the possibility of being appreciated as worth seeing.
By contrast, those with either much actual material wealth or who strive to attain it or mull over their not attaining it (like kids asked to rate their happiness in a context of toxically materialist cultures), are much more likely to miss the fleeting circumstances that might give them the feelings and expression of happiness, being as they tend to be, distracted by these other concerns.

Dissident

Thank you for a thoughtful response, EQ. I think part of the reason that so many “great” civilizations continue to have these problems is because up to this point in history (and including it), they tend to measure their “greatness” on the basis of their economic and military power, not any devotion to high principles (lip service to the latter sometimes present, but not withstanding). And that economic power is invariably concentrated into the hands of the few. We have now reached a point in history where a barter system and scarcity are no longer a necessary part of life due to limited technology, but rather enforced by the system to maintain privilege for the few. The latter point makes the contemporary United States, Britain, and other G8 nations worse offenders than ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire et al. in this sense.
In any system where inequality is the rule, you can expect rampant feelings of alienation, greed, acquisitiveness, ruthless competition, mistrust of one’s fellow human beings, extreme cynicism & mental illness to be the norm… along with autocratic laws and media propaganda designed to preserve this status quo for the benefit of the few.

Dissident

At times, when I’ve been thinking more deep on these questions…I’ve wondered to myself…whether it would be most humane for the human species to have gone extinct, and just sidesteped all the cruel B.S. humans tend to put each other through.
Nah. We simply have to start collectively believing that with modern productive technology we can create a far better system than the one that has oppressed you, me, and so many others. This will require a mass psychological revolution before any other type of revolution can occur, but that hope will be there as long as the warring ruling classes do not wipe out the entire human race. And that will only occur if the masses continue to let this despotic handful run the show.

Christian

Notice that they call young people aged between 10 and 17 “children” rather than “youths” or “adolescents”. This is another instance of the ever increasing infantilisation of youth.

Sugarboy

Interestingly enough, according to WHO, a child is a person younger than 10 years old. My guess is that children of that age are quite indifferent to mental health, finding a job, going to university and global warming – assuming they have ever heard of these issues!

Sugarboy

I read it on a forum, but I must admit that I never checked it out. It was a serious discussion though, and it didn’t look like the person who stated it was a troll.

Sugarboy

Maybe it was a discussion on Hikari’s website, but unfortunately her site is now marked private, which means that it is only accessible by owners of a WordPress account. So maybe you could take a look there or ask her directly?

Christian

According to French official nomenclature, “youth” means of age between 10 and 24. The UNO calls a “child” anyone under 18.
Yes, Hikari’s blog is private, which means that logged in WP users can ask for access, but it has to be granted by the owner.

Dissident

The Voices That Be are only too happy to lump adolescents (tweens and teens) under 18 in with children because they share a legal status. Showing no distinction in common, even academic, discussion is a form of emotional manipulation to get people thinking a certain way about a certain group of people.

Peter Herman

Very interesting… shifting the focus from self indulgence (i.e. the pursuit of happiness) to the developing of worthwhile goals! Ironically, it is in the pursuit of worthwhile goals that human beings often find true happiness.

Explorer

The problem is, modern kids are not free online as well – parents are hell-bent to “protect” them even there. And all modern “parental control” censorship-software allows them to fulfill their dreams – at the children’s expense.
So, the children of nowadays are effectively under surveillance and control 24/7 – well, until / unless they become really inventive to game the system. (And many of them do

Dissident

Well noted, Explorer. Yet you will recall from my many debates with the anti-contact crowd here and on GC that they insist that children and young teens are completely free to state their mind about anything, that they are regularly listened to by adults, and that they aren’t censured or suppressed for sexual expression. If only all of that inconveniently blatant evidence to the contrary wasn’t out there to put paid to those frankly outrageous claims.

Linca

Yes Explorer not only children under surveillance 24/7 we all are. We are the most surveilled and controlled culture ever. Our control and surveillance even exceeds Germany’s Nazi & Stasi past. Ref “Stasi”: in Permanent Record by Ed Snowden. He should know, he helped design the surveillance system we are dealing with. How can any of us be happy? The Middle School kids that hang out at our skateboard park define themselves as “Broken Glass”. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the know-how and knowledge to make things so very different than the way they are, especially us who love these guys. Every newscast we see and hear the wrong people who have taken control of our lives. I can hardly stand hearing them. Purpose and Drive won’t get us out of the hell we live in unless our purpose and drive are to revolution.

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