“‘Aren’t there any grown-ups at all?’
‘I don’t think so.’”
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
In an inner-city school beset by truancy, the presence of a 13-year-old pupil an hour before the first lesson suggests something is amiss. “Good morning, Kim,” I said. “What brings you in so early?”
Kim didn’t answer immediately. She turned her face toward me, but her eyes didn’t engage. She had a dazed and disconnected look.
“It’s my mum, sir,” she said. “She’s dead.”
I was shocked. I expressed sympathy, and asked what had happened. “I found her an hour ago,” she replied. “On the kitchen floor. She must have OD’d or done some bad stuff. She was cold. She must have died in the night.”
I asked Kim if she had called the police or an ambulance. “No,” she replied. “I didn’t know what to do and there was no one to ask. So I came here.”
Kim was one of many poorly parented children I worked with during my six months as a school “counselor,” and the amount of parenting she got didn’t change much on her single mother’s death. She wasn’t the only child neglected because of parental addiction. A 14-year-old girl who fainted in class asked me if I could find some food for her, as she hadn’t eaten for days, as her mother and her mother’s latest boyfriend had blown their benefit check on drugs; a 13-year-old boy admitted that the reason he had been absent every afternoon that term was that he had stayed at home to defend his mother from a partner who would attempt to beat her up after a daily drinking bout. There were other, even darker problems with parent figures. One 13-year-old girl asked me to look after the carving knife she had brought in her school satchel, explaining that she would need it to fend off her mother’s latest boyfriend when she got home, but she didn’t think it right to carry it around at school.
It fell to me to help these and youngsters like them, because the adults who should have been nurturing and protecting them weren’t doing their job. They weren’t neglecting their children through overt wickedness, but through irresponsibility and inadequacy—and they were inadequate and irresponsible because they were not much more than children themselves. They were grown-ups who had simply not grown up.
In the unemployed and unemployable underclass, adult immaturity is ubiquitous, but it is not only at the bottom of the heap that arrested development is found. If childish behavior is characterized by dependency, self-centeredness, and the expectation of instant gratification, then there are childish adults at every level of the social scale. There are more of them than before, because they are confirmed in their immaturity by the now-ubiquitous cult of celebrity, whose fickle, self-indulgent, and (frequently) drug-addicted gods are honored by almost anyone who owns a television. The difference is that employed, middle-class Brits have something else to do when they are not worshiping at the flickering altar in their sitting rooms. And, of course, that the televisions owned by the underclass are much bigger.
People have always been fascinated by the lives of the powerful, but that fascination has never been greater than now. In Bread and Circus Britain, the gods of celebrity are reverenced constantly—whenever a newspaper is opened or a television turned on. They fire the imagination of boys who believe that they will grow up to be another David Beckham, and girls who think they will become footballers’ wives. When they are old enough to realize that they are never going to become celebrities, they join other infantilized adults and look to the lives of the famous for entertainment.
The media provide an endless supply of it for the ‘Mum, I’m bored!’ masses of all ages. A few dozen celebs take it in turns to front vulgar TV game shows in which participants are humiliated as roundly as any thumbed-down gladiator in decadent Rome. The same famous faces and voices present documentary features in which the subject matter is overwhelmed by suffocating sound effects, pyrotechnic graphics, and crudely emphatic mood music. The same figures along with footballers and their wives and girlfriends are pictured at play in all the papers, and displayed in an endless loop on the right-hand column of the Daily Mail website, sunning their “bikini bodies” on exotic holidays, showing off their latest romantic conquests, or striking red-carpet poses in lurid tuxedos or backless and near-frontless ball gowns. Few followers of the cult of celebrity lead lives anything like that, but the media allow them to do so vicariously, with the intense and fanciful imagination of an adolescent.
We are all children now. Society has so lost a sense of what is expected of adulthood that the meaning of the word adult has been perverted. An “adult” book is not one you would be pleased to find being read by a child prodigy; it is pornography. “Adult” entertainment suggests not ballerinas but lap-dancers; “adult” toy catalogues contain—well, they do not contain remote-controlled model helicopters or planes.
Alas for the generation born to these infantilized adults! Alas for their children’s children, too! The sins of their absent fathers’ absent fathers have been visited on generation after generation now. In the inner-city sink estates where there is conjugal anarchy, children that are left to grow up without the guidance of genuine grown-ups are neglected; in the less dramatically deprived suburbs, they are subdued by being spoiled. In both places, increasing numbers of children are so ill parented that when they are sent to school at the age of five, they have not yet learned how to use a knife and fork.
This abdication or ignorance of parental responsibility has become so widespread that the British government has felt it necessary to launch a digital parenting information service. “This is not the nanny state,” said the prime minister as he introduced an organization that will teach people to use baby talk and wipe babies’ bottoms. If Mr. Cameron thinks this is not state nannying, it would be interesting to know what he thinks state nannying is.
The tragedy is not that the state is intervening, but that some kind of intervention is needed. Teenage mums whose own mums were teenagers can have little understanding of parenting, and their babies will soon be parents, too. In traditional societies, parenting skills are taught by grandparents, but a 30-year-old grandma is unlikely to have many skills to pass on.
If an infantilized nation needs to teach parenting to the unparented, so be it; but there is another example of state nannying that is far from benign. A society that no longer understands the notion of adulthood has lost its understanding of childhood, too. Since 2008—under the previous government, which we now see as part of the Blair-Brown-Cameron-Clegg continuum—sex education has been compulsory for children from the age of five. Innocence has been abolished.
Two fashionable teaching resources have been used to hang a government-issue millstone around youngsters’ necks: the Channel 4-commissioned Living and Growing, and a Sex and Relationship pack produced by the BBC. When nine-year-olds are shown cartoons of couples having sex, with a children’s voiceover commenting on what fun they seem to be having, something is adrift. When seven-year-olds are made to watch naked, computer-generated mannequins chasing each other around a bed before leaping onto it to demonstrate acts of intercourse, something is wrong. When five-year-olds are told that stroking themselves between their legs will give them “a warm feeling,” something is rotten.
Responsible parents have been complaining about this filth for years, but only recently has something been done. Ordered by the schools minister to cut the most offensive scenes from Living and Growing, Channel 4 has withdrawn the film from sale. But even if resources like these are banned, edited, or shown henceforth only to older children, the damage they have already caused cannot be undone.
The ubiquity of inappropriate sex education is not the only sign that the nation’s adults no longer know how to treat children. Another is that adults are frightened of dealing with children at all. The collapse of the moral order has left only one sexual sin that merits revulsion: pedophilia. Any other perversion is not only tolerated, but celebrated with Pride. Only the pedophile now bears the burden of righteous condemnation, and no stone is allowed to lie unturned in the drive to root him out and lock him up. Ten years ago, a law was passed requiring anyone working with children to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check. Since then, 32 million have been carried out—on teachers and childminders (fair enough), but also on parents giving other people’s kids lifts home from school, and on flower arrangers in churches that might be visited by children. The law is enforced enthusiastically and unreasonably, and certificates of clearance are not transferable. The duchess of Cambridge, whose background will have been exhaustively examined by the security services before she married into the royal family, had to be CRB checked before she was allowed to do voluntary work with the Boy Scouts. If the next day, she had offered to teach the village schoolgirls folk dancing, she would have had to have been checked all over again.
The net result of this legislation is not that children are any safer. Watching out for their individual welfare was much better done by the community. Now, the community has been told to butt out, for the protection of children in general is a matter for the state, and any adult seen talking to a child in public is perceived to be a paedo in posse if not in esse. A man sitting beside an unaccompanied child on a plane will be asked to move. A father photographing his own child on a beach is presumed to be a pervert. Any child alone with any adult is deemed at risk.
Utterly innocent lives have been ruined and even lost in the paedo witch hunt. In England last November, a 59-year-old teacher gave a lift to 17-year-old pupil who had forgotten his bus fare. The boy made no complaint, and there was no accusation of any kind of wrongdoing, but the teacher was immediately suspended on the grounds of “gross misconduct”: It was enough that he had put himself in a situation in which he had the opportunity for sexual abuse. It is reported that he has found it difficult to find work since. The assumption that any interaction between children and adults is motivated by sexual interest is now so widespread that surveys record 75 percent of men admitting they would not help a child in distress, for fear of how their actions might be perceived by others. Earlier this year, a witness told a coroner’s court in Cornwall that when he saw an unaccompanied two-year-old girl wandering through a village, he realized she was in danger, but did not stop to help lest people think he was trying to abduct her. Minutes later, she fell into a pond and drowned.
A responsible adult would have taken that child’s hand and led her to a place of safety, but in infantilized Britain, there aren’t many responsible adults about. Responsible adulthood has been bred out of the British by a busybody-driven “health and safety” culture in which no risk-taking is tolerated, however slight, lest fault be found and punishment be imposed. In yet another assault on the right of children to enjoy childhood, swings and seesaws have been ripped up and removed from public parks for fear that someone might suffer a bump and sue the local authority. Planning school trips has become a nightmare, in which risk-assessment and back-covering take up so much time and energy that many teachers opt for a quiet life and keep the kids in their classrooms. So widespread is the fear of accidents that many parents now refuse to allow their children to play outside at all.
The degree to which adult responsibility has been displaced by a fear of being found at fault is demonstrated in a series of moral outrages reported in recent years in the press. One of the most shocking occurred last March, when a man had an epileptic fit and fell into a pond. Bystanders called for help, but when a policeman and a paramedic arrived, their superiors forbade them to enter the pond as they had only been trained to carry out rescues in ankle-deep water, and the pond was three feet deep. By the time someone acceptably trained arrived, the man was dead. In 2008, a woman who fell down a mine shaft was left to die of hypothermia and exhaustion because the men sent to rescue her were not allowed to use the winch they had brought, as health and safety rules absurdly deemed it safe only to be used to rescue trapped rescuers. In 2007, two police support officers watched a ten-year-old boy drown in a pond while they waited for water-rescue trained officers to turn up.
These stories—and many more like them—are evidence that where autonomous adult responsibility is eliminated, humanity is lost, too. Kim and her inner-city classmates were the victims of today’s inadequate, infantilized parenting, but the man and the boy in the pond, the woman in the mine shaft, and every man, woman, boy, and girl in modern Britain are victims of a perverse morality imposed by a godless liberal elite that knows nothing of the nature, purpose, or duties of men, of women, or of children.