There's been a lot of hoo har about childhood in the British press this week. Growing up in the UK, it appears, is fraught with toxic danger. Children are being pushed to grow up too quickly instead of enjoying their childhood. This rather contradicts the generally held belief that men never grow up, but we won't dwell on that one...
Here in thundery France, children are exposed to similar electronic sources of amusement. They are bombarded with adverts on the tele inciting them to get their parents to buy ever more toys and junk food, go to junk food restaurants, play on the internet, and so on. French kids smoke in huge numbers as it's such a 'cool' thing to do. Our RA tells me that only 7 of her class are non-smokers, out of 34. They are also discovering alcohol and have been subjected to drug-dealers outside school gates since they were in College.
Why is no one in France concerned with lost youth, then? Perhaps because family life is still highly considered; parents do things with their children, take them out into the countryside (especially round here where it's on the doorstep) on bikes, walks, to the beach, on picnics, sledging in winter, kiting, to gites, camping, to name but some.
I know the statistics show that obesity is rising here, people are eating less well, and divorce complicates things, BUT France considers itself a child-friendly country, and with so much on offer, if you don't engage your kids in activities it's because you don't want to. It's certainly not for lack of opportunity, unless you're impoverished and stuck in a ghastly high-rise ghetto, of course.
While there is a lot of mollycoddling ('Be careful... you'll fall/hurt yourself/get dirty/get wet/get cold, etc.'), there is also an attitude that children have a valid place in society and should not be 'inodor, incolore, invisible' until they reach a civilised age (around 21). You can thus take them to restaurants where, as they are expected to behave civilly, they usually do, and to hotels, ditto. They are not censured for being a bit lively, as long as they stay within recognised bounderies of social behaviour. Parents keep them in check and everyone enjoys their meal/stay.
Will France agonise over its youth at some point 5yrs hence? I hope not. I hope that sensible attitudes will prevail, and that children will continue to be appreciated. It's one of the most attractive aspects of living in France, and yet so intangible.
In a nutshell and in no particular order, toxic childhoods could be avoided by:
1. engaging with one's child - conversation, activities
2. controlling internet/tele/Gameboy etc. access
3. feeding them fresh food
4. showing you love them
5. letting them get bored.
It's hardly rocket science.