By SKIP BANDELE
Skip Bandele moved to the Algarve 10 years ago and has been with The Resident since 2003. His writing reflects views and opinions formed while living in Africa, Germany and England as well as Portugal.
CHILDHOOD, JUST as much as family life, is in danger of extinction. The demise of perhaps the two most fundamental pillars supporting a healthy society is today being termed a ‘cancer’, affecting Britain, Portugal and every other western nation.
Girls and boys in the 21st Century no longer play. Climbing trees, the skipping rope or playgrounds are all most definitely ‘out’ as the Xbox generation leads a virtual life in front of the computer.
Experts have been asking themselves whether it is better for kids to break a wrist in pursuit of the great outdoors or develop Repetitive Strain Injury from hours spent at the video game console. In fact, the sedentary nature of kids’ pastime activities has reached such extremes that they are more than twice as likely to hurt themselves falling out of bed as they are dropping out of a tree.
In England, the government is investing 235 million pounds sterling in new play areas in an attempt to turn back the clock – failing to recognise that a policy-driven political correctness from ‘the top’ cannot succeed. The futility of such an exercise, as well as the ineptitude of those implementing it, is best illustrated by events at the launch of a London park. The Children’s Secretary Ed Balls and Culture Secretary Andy Burnham ended up colliding in a twisted heap when trying to demonstratively swing from ropes.
Mr Justice Coleridge is not a politician and he is not partial to doomed Tarzan imitations or similar publicity stunts. Instead, the respected senior judge concentrates on the heart of the matter, voicing the concerns and fears of a silent minority of which I am a member.
Changing play-patterns among youngsters are nothing more than a further manifestation of a common ill. The root of the problem, visible in every aspect of modern life, is the meltdown of relations between parents and children, instrumental in the apocalyptic rise in juvenile crime, drug addiction, binge drinking and gratuitous violence.
The frightening levels of anti-social behaviour, and worse, transcending from teenage years into adulthood is currently threatening a descent into chaos, bordering on anarchy – and there is no sign of the trend being reversed.
Coleridge says the current epidemic, affecting every social class from the Royal Family downwards, is “on a scale, depth and breadth which few of us could have imagined even a decade ago. It is a never-ending carnival of human misery, a ceaseless river of human distress. I am not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children”, he continues, “but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family.”
No doubt latest statistics – showing marriage rates at a historic low and divorce as common as never before – do not contribute favourably to the upbringing of children. With single parent families becoming the norm, the economic pressures on the breadwinner deprive those dependent on guidance and discipline of any such quality time.
Children tend to remain in the care of their mothers following a marriage break-up, taking the male role model out of the equation. Any part school and teachers were able to play in terms of compensating for this loss has fallen victim to overcrowding and a pervading sense of apathy on the educators, brought about by the hopeless nature of the spiralling problem. Worst of all, the crisis is not only self-perpetuating but also subject to an accelerating snowball effect. The lack of values, norms of behaviour and ethics failed to be transmitted to children at a young age become inherent in the grown up person who then passes their character defects to the next generation.
I sometimes wonder – were my sister and I merely privileged to grow up with a mother and father who taught us right from wrong, gave us principles and encouraged free thought while obliging us to observe certain rules, to respect others, their property, person and feelings?
Was it luck or coincidence that we spent many hours in the park, graduating from hide and seek to cowboys and Indians, Frisbee and skateboarding? It doesn’t feel that way and our friends and contemporaries enjoyed spending their time in more or less the same way. None of us liked school, but we were curious enough about the big world out there to accumulate the necessary information to lead an aware existence.
Although my sister sometimes confused Amsterdam with America and initially stumbled over the multiplication tables, she quickly learnt if only to avoid my scornful ridicule.
Many of today’s kids are glued to reality TV, not atlases, and that ‘reality’ seems to be promoting the notion that dumb is smart. One such modern-day hero, Big Brother contestant Jade Goody, is even being featured in a new GCSE media studies course. The 26-year-old, notorious for racially abusing actress Shilpa Shetty, has accumulated a fortune on the back of being ignorant and stupid.
Despite protests that she was “being used as an escape goat” when expelled, subsequent statements such as “East Angular (Anglia), that’s abroad – when people tell me they work in East Angular, I think they’re talking about Tunisia and places like that”, leave little doubt to her intellectual prowess. What hope is there for those millions avidly following her meteoric career?
In the Algarve, the world still seems relatively whole. Big Brother only enjoyed brief curiosity value while British pubs continue to be packed with tourists on show nights. Bicycle thefts and muggings still make the national press, excessive alcohol consumption and related behaviour is virtually unknown among the young and most children respect and honour their parents.
There are, however, some alarm bells ringing. Divorce has multiplied exponentially, marriages are becoming relatively rare compared to 30 years ago and drug consumption is becoming a real problem. Here and abroad drastic action is needed to protect our futures. It is the responsibility of governments, the elected people’s representatives, to insist on parents assuming their duties and to punish those who fail to do so.
Law and order form vital components in the maintenance of a harmonious society. I believe strongly in personal freedom, but only in the context of freedom for each and everyone. Any infringement of another person’s right to live in a manner of their choosing marks the beginning of the destruction of the very fabric which constitutes our precarious and precious equilibrium. The only way to ensure this balance remains intact is to promote, protect and cherish the family unit.
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