If It Takes A Village, Where Are The Villagers?

I watched a television show this week that made me cringe. Not in a small, mildly disconcerting way but in a what-the-hell-followed-by-outrage kind of way.

Gok Wan is back on the trail of positive body image again, this time with his show The Naked Truth which explores the issues surrounding teen body image in our society.

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I like Gok and have enjoyed his other shows but to be honest, I was not sure about what appeared to be a bit of bubblegum psychology so when I chose to invest an hour of my time in this versus Holby City, The Fixer, The Exit List and Cowboy Builders, I was prepared to be a bit disappointed. 

(Actually having just read this list back, I do know why I chose it but I digress.)

Of the three stories featured, it was Paige’s that made me see red. A gorgeous, slender 15 year old so obsessed by looking like the airbrushed photos online that she photoshops pictures of herself. The thinner thighs of websites like thinspiration (although having looked at the site, there are plenty of  ‘healthy’ pictures too) and seeing a ‘gap’ between the tops of her legs were her holy grail and while their visit to see a real life fashion shoot (and the digital manipulation involved afterwards) seemed to do the trick, it disturbed me to think how this beautiful girl had arrived at these conclusions in the first place.

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Gok’s also out promoting his 1-hour Body Confidence sessions to the education community and while I whole-heartedly agree that this is an important investment in the self-esteem of our future generation, I wonder – aside from it being one hour in a whole year – how this can ever be enough. 

It seems to me that the current obsession with style over substance and the appeal of easy-celebrity has led to a loss of meaning in contributing to community and being proud of your work. Images in the media are insidious and further efforts to promote healthy bodies and un-touched pictures can only help. But doesn’t the key to all of this start at home?

Back in September last year, Chris Lloyds’ Wallbook Weekly Why Children Fail inspired a bit of a Gidday rant on a similar theme. If parents really are at their wit’s end in knowing how to deal with this, then shouldn’t part of the investment pie be directed here too? But then who decides what to ‘teach’ and how to ‘measure’ the outcome is a thorny issue at best. 

In response to my post back in September, some of my followers of the parental variety mentioned their strong belief that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. For me, a village starts with a sense of community. And the prevailing community for our teens is the online one.

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Last year’s riots in London shocked the world capturing image after image of violence and arrogant entitlement. But what it also showed was the power of social media.

So does the answer (or at least part of the solution) lie here?

A Gross Generalisation…

Each Monday I receive my Wallbook Weekly from Chris Lloyd and the folks at What on Earth? I usually skim over it during the first train ride of my commute (there are three each way every day you know) but this week’s I flagged for a more detailed reading.

Why Children Fail.

It was the headline that caught my attention.

We have just emerged from another school year in the UK. One of supposedly higher than ever pass rates and higher still expectations that university should be the chosen path. For many, not offered a place at the instution of higher learning they aspire to, this may be a financial blessing in disguise as the inevitable outcry over increasing university fees – to be or not be – sallies forth once again.

So what will these bright young things do with themselves? And how will parents help them to navigate the uncharted waters of the fact that sometimes life isn’t fair and you can’t always get what you want?

It’s a provocative point Chris makes in his article suggesting that there is an unconscious expectation for the education system to be entirely responsible for educating while in fact the most deep-seated behavioural learnings for young children are acquired in the home.

“What we are witnessing are the catastrophic consequences of the misplaced impression, ubiquitous today, that teachers, schools and the state (with all its laborious examination regimes) are what really matter when it comes to the education of young people…as any adult who takes an active role in the upbringing of their offspring knows, the ultimate teachers for any youngster aged between 5 and 12 are their parents. 
Chris Lloyd, Wallbook Weekly, 12th September 2011

Yes absolutely, I think, casting my mind back to a childhood filled with chores to do, ‘best behaviour’ to master and honesty generally being the best policy – if I’m going to be found out (and I ALWAYS was) best to ‘fess up and get it over and done with.

Then I am reminded of a debate recently held over the lunch table at work, bemoaning firstly the ‘nanny state’ which does not ‘allow’ parents to discipline their children as they see fit and secondly, the vociferousness of the young in proclaiming their right to be heard/have opportunities/be paid for etc which does not extend to ‘washing the dishes’ and contributing as part of a (family) community.

And in catching up with a friend this week, we remarked what a sad indictment it was to have a colleague of his (who works with teens) comment on what a great job he and his wife had done – because his kids were not involved with drugs.

Of course this is a gross generalisation. Or is it? Shouldn’t we aspire to greater things than this – and I’m not referring to the ‘trappings’ either?

I’ve just finished re-reading Little Women and if I ignore the ‘God’ stuff (apologies if you are religiously minded but it just doesn’t do it for me), the lessons are all there – family, humility, honesty, pride in one’s work. The ‘just getting on with life’, the ‘picking yourself up’, the ‘try and try again until you succeed’. You know, those life lessons that, with not much ‘life’ under your belt, you need your parents to guide you (whether you like it or not). Chris Lloyd’s’ Ministry of Home might not be too far-fetched an idea.

So in the midst of this maelstrom, I must admit to feeling a little relieved. Is it wrong of me to say that my no-children policy seems to be the best decision I ever made?

What do you think?