Protect family time
Unicef research suggests that British parents focus too little on family time and too much on material goods.
by Rune H. Rasmussen
Does the pressure of work and the materialistic consumer society harm our children? A recent Unicef report certainly seems to suggest it.
The report, entitled “An overview of child well-being in rich countries”, places the UK in 21st, and bottom position in the child well-being table of developed nations, suggesting that “parents in the UK want to be good parents, but aren't sure how. They feel they don't have the time, and sometimes the knowledge, and often try to compensate for this by buying their children gadgets and clothes.” This results in trading quality time with our children for “cupboards full of expensive toys that aren't used.”
Children want their parents’ attention
"All children interviewed said that material goods did not make them happy, but materialism in the UK seems to be just as much of a problem for parents as children," the research states. "Parents in the UK often feel compelled to purchase consumer goods which are often neither wanted nor treasured." All children want their parents’ attention, but it seems British parents give them expensive gadgets and toys instead.
The research compares family life in the UK with Sweden and Spain, which come second and fifth respectively in the child well-being table. According to Unicef, parents in these countries perform better because "family time is protected" and children "all have greater access to activities".
"In Sweden their social policy allows family time and their culture massively reinforces it. In Spain fathers do work long hours, but the extended family is still very important and women stay at home to look after their children."
The researchers also found that, while the people of Sweden and Spain are materialistic too, parents in these countries more able to defy the consumer society:
"Parents in the UK… don't know how to challenge the materialist culture they see around them. This is in stark contrast to the families the researchers spent time with in Sweden and Spain."
Massive materialistic pressure
A suggested reason for the poor state of child well-being in the UK, is that material inequality is much higher here than in other rich countries. Often, poor families feel they have to work even harder to be able to purchase goods for their children that will give them status amongst their peers; such as the latest computer games and brand name clothing.
"Parents and children feel massive external pressure from a materialistic culture, which they know won't bring happiness, but are conforming to none-the-less," the research finds. "Lack of family time and materialism is particularly felt among poorer families in the UK compared to the other countries."
In order to improve the situation, Unicef suggests some measures that may help parents to change their priorities:
- a reform of advertising laws
- a living wage so that families earn enough to spend more time with each other
- protection of children's facilities so they have the opportunity to be active
Reconsider your priorities
Regardless of whether these suggested measures are carried out by government, there is one key point parents should take from this research:
Spend quality time with your children as often as possible.
Read the Unicef report
Our children need time not stuff