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About A Week: Pampered Kids Threaten Planet

Selfish and demanding British children are playing their part in ruining the planet, says Peter Hinchliffe,

British parents now fork out an average of 180,000 to bring up a child to the age of 21.

Yet in the same week that this shocking figure was announced Hilton Dawson, the chairperson of a new national parental training academy declared:

"We don't like children in this country. We are a bit afraid of them, and we don't value parents or parenting, much as some would like to pretend that it's easy and we must not let the state interfere. We don't value family experiences."

The child rearing costs were established by a survey undertaken for Liverpool Victoria, an insurance and investment society founded in 1843.

Parents are spending an average of 24 per day on each child, and the cost of raising offspring to the age of 21 rose by 9 percent during the past year.

The biggest chunk of child rearing cash goes on childcare 49,000 and education 46,500.

Child rearing costs are running at four times the U.K. rate of inflation -- and have risen even more rapidly than house prices.

To meet these hefty bills both parents have to work in the majority of families. In two-thirds of households husband and wife go out to work -- and many worry about the time they spend away from their children.

Not surprisingly they try to compensate for their absence by buying their offspring expensive electronic toys and coughing up generous amounts of pocket money.

More than half the children under the age of 16 have a TV set in their bedroom, according to statistics from the Independent Television Commission.

Slightly more than a third of children under the age of four watch a TV set in their own room, away from their parents.

U.K. children between the ages of 6 and 16 spend about three hours a day watching TV. When they have temporarily had enough of TV their bedrooms echo to the beep, squawk and ping of video games.

Youngsters have iPods and mobile phones long before they are 10 years old.

There have been immense social changes in Britain during the span of my life. When I was a boy the majority of women did not go out to work. My mother was always at home to greet me when I came in from school, ready with a hot meal or a jam sandwich or a plaster to stick on a cut knee. My father read aloud to me on many a night, and was always willing to play a game of Ludo or Snakes and Ladders.

Hilton Dawson believes that good parenting is the key to people living fulfilled and successful lives. Poor parenting can lead to a lifetime of problems. He says that a nation of workaholics must focus on giving family life the value it deserves.

Dawson, a former Labor Party member of Parliament and an experienced children and family social worker, says that some children are "cosseted and over-protected to the point where it becomes undermining of them," while in other cases parenting is so lacking or inadequate that kids are left deeply vulnerable.

The new academy aims to become a national authority on the best parenting practices. It hopes to help parents with the greatest needs, and also the majority who muddle through but would benefit from occasional advice.

Good parenting involves spending time with children -- reading to them, playing games with them, going on outings and sharing meals. A survey by parenting organization Raisingkids found that 20 percent of those asked sat down to eat together just once a week or less. Children often have meals alone in their bedrooms while watching TV or playing computer games.

Fathers and mothers, arriving home after another day's working slog in competitive Britain, are often too tired to do more than prepare a sketchy meal, before themselves slumping evening-long in front of a TV screen. The faint sounds of another TV channel being watched upstairs, or Game Boy squeaks and bleeps persuade them that the kids are OK, finding their own entertainments.

Jill Segger, a freelance writer, said in an article in the Church Times, an Anglican newspaper, that Christmas consumerism involves an appeal to immaturity.

"Urgent desires, a lack of restraint, self-absorption and an ignorance of the relationship between actions and consequences are universal characteristics of the immature person. As all responsible parents know, the formation of children into civilized and graceful individuals is a difficult task. Those qualities of childhood that, if left unchecked, give rise to the dysfunctional adult are the very qualities upon which consumer capitalism depends. And it is at this time of year that its sour fruits are to be seen all around us."

Harassed hard-working parents are routinely turning preschool-aged children into consumers. When those children reach adulthood they continue to equate love and happiness with possessions.

In their 20s they want a new car, their own house They want more and more possessions -- and they want them NOW.

And this at a time when, if the Earth is to remain a hospitable planet, we are all going to have to consume less.

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