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The Ros Dodd Column



It's been claimed this week that middle-class parents who pressurise their children to succeed are condemning a generation of youngsters to stress and depression.

The American psychologist Dr Madeline Levine has identified a growing breed of ‘helicopter' mums and dads - so called because they hover over all aspects of their kids' lives.

Children in these families are pushed so hard to excel at everything from Maths and English to Sport and Music that they are left feeling hopeless failures if they ever fall short of the unrealistic expectations heaped on their young shoulders.

Meanwhile, a study at York University has found that British children are among the unhappiest and unhealthiest in Europe.

University researchers paint a depressing picture of dysfunctional families unable to talk to each other or eat together, with British youngsters the most likely in Europe to come from broken homes.

Their relationships with parents and friends rank among the worst, and on a scale of ‘well-being', they rate 21st out of 25 EU nations, trailed only by Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia.

Scant reassurance, then, to hear that Birmingham and the West Midlands ranks as the best area in England to live outside the holiday destinations of Devon and Cornwall, according to Britain's first ‘well-being' survey carried out by YouGov.

The West Midlands scored the highest marks for happiness at work and the lowest levels of personal stress in the survey.

What, you might well wonder, are we to deduce from this avalanche of seemingly conflicting information?

My first thought is that if middle-class kids in the West Midlands are growing up in such fraught circumstances, how can they possibly turn into happy, rounded and professionally satisfied adults? It simply doesn't add up.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that a majority of parents today - middle class or otherwise - are hell-bent on their children ‘doing well' educationally, regardless of their youngsters' ability.

This attitude is promoted by thegovernment, which is equally hell-bent on getting 50 per cent of all school leavers into university (even while it knows that degrees in dodgy subjects from second rate universities aren't worth the paper they're written on), apparently regardless of young people's intellectual aptitude.

Every parent wants their kid to have a rosy childhood and a seamless transition into successful and contented adulthood.

Sadly, in today's moral and social climate, that isn't likely to happen.

Divorce is prolific, stress - from primary school to office level - is at epic proportions and pressure to ‘succeed' frighteningly high.

Add into this unedifying pot the media-fuelled fear of crime in general and paedophilia in particular and you start to understand why kids today are being confused, demoralised and alienated from the business of real living.

Before I became a parent, I imagined I would want any child of mine to be literate by the age of four and numerate a year later.

I conjured up a mental picture of my child going to a top university and entering one of the top professions.

The reality is very different.

Since my daughter was born just over three years ago, I know that all I want is for her to be happy - and whether she achieves that by being a refuse collector or an actress I really don't care.

Assuming she isn't hurting others by what she does, then anything she wants to do is fine by me.

I'm aware that lots of parents like me spend their lives concocting elaborate educational and entertainment timetables for their offspring, but I believe children should be allowed to develop at their natural pace and, even more crucially, be allowed to be bored.

Being bored is the best way to activate their innate creativity; drowning them in organised activity can only suck away their unique imaginative skills.

Ironically, many parents who go to ridiculous lengths to ensure their kids are fruitfully occupied are those who are involved in tearing apart a child's basic framework - the home.

Divorce, as copious amounts of studies show, wreaks untold damage on children, which will far outweigh the benefits of giving them extra SATS preparation .

As a society, we have gone awry in our care of the next generation.

The best thing for kids is a stable home life and parents who are prepared to support and encourage their offspring in whatever they want to do.

You might not have an Einstein on your hands, but you'll have a happy child. Oh, and if you live in Birmingham or the West Midlands, that will help enormously too.


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