Saturday 13 November 2010

How to Bring Up Children

"Our society is child obsessed" said The Observer, Aug 10 08 - meaning that we don't ignore, neglect or abuse them quite so much as we used to. The English middle classes can only stand so much being nice to children (abolition of corporal punishment in schools, children being given rights) before they fight back with dangerous activity holidays.

Jen Teale calls small children "little people" which makes Samantha Upward want to throw up. Sam calls them “children” because, as Eileen says, “a kid is a baby goat”, and besides it’s horribly folksy to call them “kids”. Gideon Upward can't seem to see that toddlers ARE little people, and expects them to be able to use a knife and fork, remove screw-top lids, "remember" to turn off lights and “get” irony.

Upward infants are given wooden toys. Teale “toddlers” get expensive play equipment for the garden. Definitely kids get Barbie’s Magic Castle.

Sharon Definitely signs her kids up with a child model agency. Jen’s join the sea cadets or play in a brass band. Sam’s poor offspring can’t even join the Brownies.

Teale children go to local schools where they make friends for life who live nearby. If their grades are good, they get a new bicycle or a “fountain pen” (to Teales, a pen is a biro). Upward children go to boarding school and have no-one to hang out with in the holidays. It may take decades for them to realise they’ve been short-changed. They’re given gold fountain pens when they’re longing for a giant cuddly lion. (This is archaic - it's all gadgets these days!)

Thalia Upward moves out of London to protect her children from commercialisation and celebrity culture. Some Upwards go slightly mad when they have children and put them into an exclusion zone. (No child of mine is going to watch Tellytubbies or eat Coco Pops!) Thalia rigidly rations her children’s telly/DVD watching and computer use. She only lets her children watch black and white movies. Her daughter is left out at school because she’s never watched Big Brother and doesn’t have a Barbie.

This attempt to control all input is usually foiled as soon as their kid meets others and hears about Action Man. Maybe the Upwards can absorb their folk devils one at a time - oh, the Tellytubbies are all right really but Coco Pops, never! Or else they moan about how guilty they feel about the rising tide of plastic tat and try to put the blame on someone or something else (“We had to! He said everyone else had got one! I had to do something to shut him up! It’s this terrible consumer society we live in!”) They find the plastic clutter particularly oppressive because they don’t know how to tidy up or store anything. Jen puts big toy bins in the kids’ bedrooms.

Upwards dress their children in special kid clothes. Old-fashioned, cotton, cute, smocked dresses and dungarees. The kids look wistfully at the Definitely children who are wearing designer brands covered in logos. The Upwards also don’t let their kids “play out” in case they mix with the wrong kind of children. But they’re the ones who complain about health and safety gone mad, the nanny state, and wrapping kids in cotton wool, and how we daren’t let them out to play any more for fear of paedophiles. Actually the real danger is cars (many more of them now than in 50s, 70s or whenever you were a child).

If Thalia stays in London, she goes to church to get her children into a CoE school where everybody wears a uniform and is well-behaved. The children like the singing and the family make friends and Thalia appreciates a quiet sit-down in beautiful surroundings and begins to think that Jesus had a point. But she doesn’t think she has anything in common with any weird American sect which insulates its children from the wider culture and dresses them in Little House on the Prairie frocks.

Upwards will tell you that childhood was invented by the Victorians, but all the same they want their kids to stay kids—they’re terrified of their children becoming “precocious”. At the same time they insist that the poor little mites eat and like very adult food that’s strong tasting or impossible to manipulate. They don't want them to let the class side down by preferring white bread and Heinz tomato soup. They give their kids food that has to be eaten with knives and forks and then yell at them for having terrible table manners.

They’re also keen that their children shouldn’t be frightened of dogs. When a large dog thrusts its face at their toddler (tied into his pushchair so he can’t escape), they take the dog’s side and insist it’s only trying to be friendly. The ones who Escape to the Country would really like their children to associate only with animals.

Upwards and Weybridges are very down on fear generally. People should just shut up about the paedophile threat - it’s making us too frightened. (See nanny state, cotton wool etc.) And they whinge in chorus at antiterrorist measures (“We mustn’t let FEAR of terrorists impede our FREEDOM in anyway.”)

Howard woofles that in his day children respected adollts (accent on the second syllable). He fails to understand why parents can't control their children in public (he thinks there must be some way of turning the sound right off).

Manners - say please! What's the magic word! You can, and you may! All groups try to teach their kids "manners" far too young - when the child has only just learned to talk.

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