Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Mean Streets

I found the riots in London and other parts of the UK this week truly terrifying and my heart goes out to all those innocent families who have lost homes and businesses. I didn't sleep well Monday night, there was a feeling of menace in the air even though I was tucked up safely some 30 miles from any danger and that is because I have a secret horror of this kind of breakdown of civilization. To me it was reminiscent of films such as The Road, Legend and 28 Days Later where some catastrophic event has lead to sectors of the population becoming 'infected' or displaced, leading to violence and a hunted existence for those unaffected. I find myself dwelling on the possibility of this situation, some mutated virus resistant to antibiotics, a natural disaster caused by global warming, nuclear war, but now another ugly possibility has raised it's head, the underbelly of society, anarchists, angry youths, whoever they are, seeking to destroy, with no soul or conscience.

I recently read Sue Palmer's book Toxic Childhood and she sets out quite clearly the reasons, in her opinion, that children become feral: lack of adult guidance, attention and role modelling; poor diet, too much sugar and additives; too little sleep; too much TV and computer games, which dissociates the child from reality, leads to poor concentration and focus, a need for instant gratification and a poor grasp of reality; plus the nature of TV these days, full of reality shows, teaches children that you can achieve success apparently by doing very little, winning x factor, going on big brother, dating someone famous. Of course the reality is that many of these people, despite appearances are very disciplined and hard working. Many young people seem to think it is their right to have material success without actually doing the hard slog necessary to obtain it.
The other problem with TV is the aggressive marketing that children are exposed to, steering them towards inappropriate clothing and toys. It is a seriously depressing situation and I don't know how we are going to set about changing things.
Many people during these riots have been shocked at the young age of some of the looters, 'Where are their parents?' has been a universal cry, but that is the problem, mainly they either have parents who aren't that concerned where they are, or who have lost control. Sue Palmer talks about visiting run down inner city areas, where children are becoming increasingly feral. 'Many of the children don't have children's faces-they're pinched and angry with dead eyes. For them violence is a fact of daily life. Their parents- deprived, uneducated, often scarcely more than children themselves-are often junkies, alcoholics, involved in crime.'
Obviously not all the rioters fit into this category, it turns out some had good jobs and were 'respectable' citizens, who saw an opportunity to loot and steal or get involved in the thrill of the violence and drama.
As a parent, I try and spend time with my kids, give them positive attention, feed them well, send them to bed on time, ensure they get plenty of exercise and fresh air and spend time in natural environments, limit TV and teach them values which I consider important. It's hard work, sometimes boring, unpaid of course, which is probably why a lot of parents would rather stick them in front of a TV or computer. Plus society has devalued the role of motherhood, so that you almost feel lazy for not working outside the home. But society begins in the home, the values you need to be a good member of the community are taught and modelled in the home, just as social skills and table manners are picked up during family meal times and conversations. We need to concentrate on the next generation of young families and make sure that these kids are being taught more humanitarian skills. As Sue Palmer predicted in 2006 'Children are our most significant investment for the future, and the toxic cocktail is already undermining the social, emotional and intellectual development of an unacceptable number. Even if your own offspring have escaped unscathed, the world they're growing up in is full of others who've been less fortunate. As more children become distractable, impulsive and lacking in empathy, antisocial behaviour will increase. If toxic childhood syndrome is not stemmed, it will pose an increasing threat to social cohesion.'