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Spoilt Rotten

September 14, 2009

I was listening to Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London this morning and almost every caller to a man thanked Dr Aric Sigman for shining the spotlight on the Elephant in the room. What Elephant is this you ask? Well he’s published a new book called The Spoilt Generation, which has featured in almost every news media today. His premise is simple: a generation of young people are growing up with an over-inflated sense of entitlement because of the erosion of adult authority through laws set up, ostensibly, to protect children. Couple this with parents inability to say ‘no’ and you have a deadly alchemy that has produced the highest rates of child depression, children murdering other children, underage pregnancy, obesity, anti-social and violent behaviour and teen alcoholism since records began. To be fair, the media always finish bad news with ‘since records began’ for dramatic effect. ‘Since records began’ could’ve been Christmas 2008. We also have to take into account that such things as teen pregnancy and anti-social behaviour have been ever thus. It hasn’t just landed on us in the last ten years. However, it does appear to be occurring a lot more now. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that class is an indicator of the type of rug rats expecting adults to earn their respect instead of what should be the other way round. It’s as likely to come in a nice shiny Aristocratic package as the usual tarnished underclass that come in for a kicking every time we’re given an illustration of how this country is broken.

I listened to the callers’ stories of their experiences as parents or general members of the public and found I was nodding myself into a headache as I agreed with almost everyone. I have bored my friends rigid with this and now I’m passing it on to you. If I’ve said this once I will say it a thousand times before I become a dearly departed: we are not allowed to be a village anymore. Let me explain. There is a saying that it takes a Village to raise a child. There are the parents, who create the child and try to raise it up through whatever methods they have at their disposal. Then there is the local populace and authorities like the Police who become the parent away from home through looking out for them to keep them from harm and censuring them to keep them straight. Back in the day, when I was a young ‘un, I had respect for adults, particularly my parents. Adults were powerful and they knew a lot more than me. I learnt very quickly how far I could push the boundaries. Other adults, not necessarily related, could freely tell me off if I did something wrong and I knew that if my parents ever found out I would be in even bigger trouble. But here’s the punch line – the family reputation was everything. I was not going to bring shame on my parents. My family. All that has now gone, for some at least and I can only cite my own recent experience to show how far down the road this misinterpretation and misuse of the laws to protect children has taken us.

I’ve had this on-going problem with kids congregating on the steps since I moved into Pie Palace over six years ago. They have their cigarettes, they have a (very loud) chat, they play their mobile phones… and they spit. A nice combination of fags and phlegm greet my neighbours and me whenever we leave the building or approach it. Every year, the relay baton is passed on to a new set of kids and we suffer all over again. For a while they were able to get into the building as well, which presented a whole new level of misery, hitting a crescendo when other people started coming in with their drugs and dogs. Eventually the keypad was disabled which knocked it on the head. We still get the fag spit boys outside though. A couple of weeks ago, I was nearly home when I turned the corner to find a group of boys sitting on the steps doing the usual. My heart sank, as I knew how this was going to end. In the past I’ve asked politely, I’ve thanked them, I’ve cajoled them and I’ve threatened them, though that doesn’t work as one cheekily said, “You don’t own this place.” I wasn’t quick enough at the time to say “And you don’t live round here, you cheeky fuck,” but I digress. As I approached them, I decided to put my hard face on and not say a word and to their credit, they all moved except one, who decided to give it the large one. I stared him out for as long as I could, but in the end, I said, “Please?” He looked at me, gave a smile of triumph, and moved on. He knew and I knew that I couldn’t touch him with words or my hand, though the worst I would’ve done would’ve been to grab him and move him off the stairs like you would’ve been able to do in ‘the old days’. These kids know all their rights (ask a teacher how they control a class now. They have no chance) but none of the responsibility. There are parents who will defend their kids no matter what they do. They are not being done any favours here. It can only end in tears.

Dr Sigman is advocating reforms reinstating adult authority so you, as a person, would be able to set a child on the right path without fear of prosecution. It would probably take a couple of generations, but it needs to happen if we are to raise children to become capable adults with a real sense of their connection to others and their worth in this world that’s more than just material. Because it can all go in a flash, anyway. This recession has proved it.

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