Bleak Picture for UK Children


England’s 12 million children and teenagers rank near last in general well-being among the 25 member nations of the European Union, according to a recent study.

“Research comparing children’s well-being across 25 countries paints a picture of dysfunctional British families failing to talk to each other or eat together,” the Daily Mail reported Aug. 6, 2006. “Youngsters in Britain are most likely to come from broken homes and have among the poorest relationships with their parents and friends. Young Britons also have some of the worst eating habits and freely admit binge-drinking, taking drugs and indulging in underage sex.”

The study, led by John Bradshaw, a professor at York University, also found that only 60 percent of children spoke to their parents regularly and a third did not eat meals with them.

But how clear is the link between dysfunctional families and the general well-being of children? Can such simple things as eating dinners and spending time with parents really have a positive impact on childhood well-being?

The University of York report cited evidence of a connection between family breakdown and the performance of a child in school. “There is substantial evidence that children in single-parent as well as in step families tend to have worse outcomes than peers living with both biological parents,” it said.

Another study, conducted by Columbia University and cited by the July 29, 2005, Opinion Journal, stated, “[T]eens from families that almost never eat dinner together are 72 percent more likely to use illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol than the average teen.”

Helen Altman Klein also illustrates the importance talking with children and eating dinner with children has on their personal development and well-being in her book Childhood Education. She writes, “The power of sharing food and social time does not stop in infancy. Research shows that children who eat dinner regularly with their families are more successful in school. Scientists are not sure why this happens, but we can guess. The order and discipline needed to maintain a family dinner tradition may be one of the keys. Parents who make an effort to eat with their children may have a greater commitment to their family. Furthermore, dinner conversation may support verbal skills and healthy self-regard. Family dinners deserve our attention as a contributor to children’s well-being” (emphasis ours).

Stipends can help to feed hungry stomachs, but it appears that only British families can begin to feed the hungry hearts and minds of Britain’s unhappy children.