Following its study which placed UK children at the bottom of the well-being league table in 2007, Unicef have been looking at why children in the UK fare so badly against those in countries like Sweden and Spain.
They have found that inequality and materialism are to blame – factors that have been at the centre of debates following this summer’s riots in Londonand across the UK. The research focused on children’s experiences of the connection between inequality, materialism and well-being. Unsurprisingly for our team of experts at Eureka!, the children Unicef spoke to from the UK, Sweden and Spain all agreed that their happiness and well-being was dependent on a stable family life with lots of time for play-based activities to keep them active and occupied.
However, the research showed that whilst family time and play are part of the fabric of life in Sweden and Spain, here in the UK families are not getting enough time to spend together – not because they don’t want to but because of other pressures from our consumerist society which places emphasis on work, money and material possessions.
What worries us most about the findings of the research is that many parents in theUK are placing more value on buying their children the latest clothes, toys and games rather than spending time with them, partly because of fears of bullying. Owning the latest gadget or toy is sadly used as a means of gaining acceptance within a child’s peer group. It seems we have become so obsessed with ‘things’ that we are pushing the wrong values on our children – who say that what actually makes them happy is the simple pleasures in life like time with loved ones and playing outdoors.
So how do we break this vicious circle and change a culture that now seems so ingrained in our society?
1. Show parents that play is for all the family
Many parents think that play is just for the children, which means that they neglect spending time playing together. When families visitEureka! The National Children’s Museum we encourage parents to get in there and play as hard as their kids. Our exhibits are intentionally designed to work on many different levels to encourage adults to interact with them and their children.
Instead of vilifying young people as many did in the wake of the riots, we should give them a voice and put them first. Unicef’s research is a perfect example of how if we listened to children we would find out what is really important rather than relying on perceptions about what other adults think.
3. Make well-being at least as important as economic growth
We welcome the Government’s introduction of a Well-Being Index to track the UK’s progress alongside measures like GDP. As long as adults focus on financial status and wealth, there is no hope for our children. If we want a prosperous Big Society, we need to focus on things that bring people together, strengthen relationships, improve physical and emotional health and make people happy. Play may not be the complete answer to this but with nearly 20 years experience advocating the importance of play, we firmly believe it is a fundamental component to the well being of children, families and ultimately society as a whole.
We believe that once families start spending more time playing together, and realise how much value it brings to the quality of their family life, the perceived need for the latest X-Box or pair of designer trainers will diminish.