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.'


  1. I agree with all of what you say. It saddens me to the core, when I look into the faces of these young feral children my heart reaches out to them.

    I often think that the time for none return from the edge is coming. There are so many signs which are being ignored by all of Government, social leaders regards of which party, religion or race.

    I often feel that many of the films you mentioned along with the film that struck deep into my soul, Mad Max will one day become our reality.

    Keep safe

  2. Yes Jean, I'd forgotten about Mad Max! The only glimmer of hope I've seen is the coming together of communities and like minded people on the streets and on social networks to condemn the violence and support the authorities. Maybe the public backlash will fuel change.

  3. It was not pointed that that many parents could be both out working late and long hours in order to survive with the cost of living, in the old days, women stayed at home and the men were the bread earners. It's people like Sue Ferral by the sounds of it, type cast many. I am a single mother of three, one of which has ADHD, I have my own business, yes have been caught up in the ficious cirlce of the benefit system, but that doesn't allow my children to think that they can go around and loot and act and be like criminals. I'm not young mum, never was, not a drug addict or an alcoholic.
    It seems its always the working class that get blamed for acts of violence, and stero-typed so typically when things like this kick off.
    I am appalled by our country and what has just occurred, but think this is down to the nanny state that we live in, how soft we are now on everything. Just my personal opinion.

  4. Hi Tania, no I didn't mention that, as I don't want to associate working parents and parental neglect, as many parents have excellent childcare arrangements, but Sue Palmer, among other writers, does talk about long hours in nursery not being ideal for young children. It is difficult when parents have to work, I'm lucky I can stay home, but we have had to make big sacrifices, which many of my friends and acquaintances seem reluctant to make. You should read Sue's book, she has an interesting chapter on the rise of learning disabilities in our society. I don't think she's judging or sterotyping about class,and I know many children from affluent middle class families who have the same behaviours,but we have to be honest with ourselves about what the causes are. Without doubt most families now need two incomes to survive, the cost of living is ridiculous and it must be a real struggle when you are a single parent. I think it is down to parental strength and discipline, whatever class you're in. I agree we are too soft, I'm in favour of National Service instead of community service, teach them discipline and new skills!