Just finished reading a fascinating article about a UNICEF study on the health and well-being of children in the UK, Spain and Sweden. Among other things, the study found that children in the UK had the lowest well-being, and that much of that was related to two things: family time, and consumerism.
The study concluded that one of the reasons children in the UK were less happy, was because of the tremendous financial pressures on their parents. The study found that the country, as a whole, did not value family time in the same way that Spain and Sweden do. With less support for working parents, and wages that don’t allow for flexibility in scheduling and work load, the UK is a harder place for families.
However, the study also found that parents in the UK were under more pressure to provide “stuff” for their children, in the way of material goods: brand name clothing, technology etc. And, on top of that, many well-meaning parents were providing their children with this stuff as a replacement for the time they aren’t able to spend with their kids.
“Consumer culture in the UK contrasts starkly with Sweden and Spain, where family time is prioritised, children and families are under less pressure to own material goods and children have greater access to activities out of the home,” said the report.
The article I read suggested that the study was a good reminder for North American parents as well. It is hard to imagine that American and Canadian parents aren’t feeling many of the same pressures as UK families, and that they aren’t reacting in much the same way.
Reading the article made me think of homeschooling, and what families give and give up to do so. Most families (if they are lucky to have the option) give up two incomes. Many are on a budget of some kind, and give up material possessions, in favour of family time. Exactly the conditions that the study praises Spain and Sweden for. The gains, for most homeschooling families, are obvious.
I also found it interesting to note that children in all three countries defined happiness as based on:
“having time with their family, and lots to do, especially outside, rather than on owning technology and brand name clothing,” – MakingChildren Happy, It’s Not About Stuff
Sometimes, I think we forget about what our children really want, in our frenzy to provide them with what we think they need. Next time I think about purchasing something for my children, I am going to ask myself some hard questions, such as, “Why do they need this? Do they really want this? Will it improve our quality of life? Will it hinder it? What is the true cost of purchasing this (in price, and lost time etc.)?”
Sure, there are things I still want for my kids. Lots of things. But, I am learning to reframe my picture of what our family needs. And, more often than not, those things are not “things,” after all.
Read the original article here: http://www.bccf.ca/professionals/blog/2011-10/making-children-happy-its-not-about-stuff
Read the full study here: Children’s Well-being in UK, Sweden and Spain: The Role of Inequality and Materialism