IPE of the Sad Childhood

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/18/2007 06:46:00 PM
The United Kingdom has the market cornered in entertainment dealing with crappy childhoods. I've always thought it an oddly British predilection to fetishistically catalog childhood traumas as a form of catharsis. In the seventies, Pink Floyd asked teachers to "leave them kids alone" for "all in all, you're just another brick in the wall." In the eighties, Tears for Fears built an entire career singing about their awful formative years. Similarly, Marillion composed an entire album about "Misplaced Childhood." The Adrian Mole diaries express similar themes in literary form.

All this brings me to the current brouhaha over UNICEF's recent judgment that the UK comes dead last in a league table of children's well-being in 21 developed countries. In the categories of "family and peer relationships," and "behaviors and risks," it ranks last while coming in second to the last in "subjective well-being" (here's the entire report). If you're a fan of eighties music, this finding should come as no surprise, though we might need to investigate further.Already, New Labour spinmeisters are out in force claiming UNICEF is working with dated data, small sample sizes, and what else have you. Left-leaning pundits chime in that neoliberal policies are to blame. It's a definite possibility; after all, the US places second-worst. You can fill in the rest of their story: the demise of social safety nets have caused children to suffer disproportionately; the dog-eat-dog social milieu is spreading misery among youngsters; the government overlooks children; and so forth.

Findings like these belie Paul Krugman's head-scratching assertion about helping the poor, the British way.From my perspective, it'd be better if critics of British social policy can catalog a progressive deterioration in the quality of formative years to prove their point. Maybe it's no coincidence that "The Wall" was released in Thatcher's first year as PM, or that albums by Tears for Fears and Marillion were released as neoliberal policies took hold in the eighties. Ditto for Adrian Mole. Additionally, a longitudinal comparison of childhood cohorts in these 21 countries can provide insight as to whether miserable childhoods lead to miserable adulthoods. After all, Roger Waters, Roland Orzabal, and Fish turned out alright in the end, didn't they?

Update (March 9): The International Herald Tribune has an article on alienated youth in Britain that is worth reading.

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me
- no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me - look right through me