Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Important things are boring

"I only want beautiful things. Not scary or important things. Important things are boring."

As a philosophy of life, it is worthy of Oscar Wilde, even if it is only Little C's defence of the fact that she responds to almost every advert on Nickelodeon Junior by saying "I want that." The horrible, insidious way in which advertising targets children as young as three is depressing, but Little C's response is surely further evidence that she is a genius.

Every parent, they say, thinks their child is a genius. Actually, they are wrong. I have never seriously thought any such thing. I'm sure every parent is at some point amazed at aspects of their child's development, seeing them grasp something fundamental or exceed expectations mentally or physically. But I have never been one of those parents who views every such occasion as evidence of his child's obvious brilliance.

Still, independent feedback on your child's development is fascinating, so it was with some excitement that we collected Little C's first report from the nursery she attends four afternoons a week. Excitement, but also surprise - I didn't know they got school reports at three, I joked - then I read it and realised that was exactly what we had been given. Except it was a bit more hardcore than the reports I'd got at secondary school.

The report is actually called an 'Early Years Foundations Stage transfer summary' and it is laid out like a job description, assessing Little C against a series of expected competencies. Under headings such as personal, emotional and social development, she is assessed on her ability to get dressed, interact with others, take turns and express her needs and feelings 'appropriately'. For the record, she comes out very well, though apparently the target around communicating freely in a group discussion is one she is still 'working towards'.

For crying out loud, she is three! Has she joined the rat race already? Does she need a course of media training? Are we going to be admonishing her at five because her public speaking skills are still not quite up to scratch?

And while it's sooner than I thought, it seems this is only the beginning. I have heard horror stories of competitive parents at the school gates, mums and dads who do their kids' homework, snipe at others' SATS results and demand ever more homework so their kids get 'every chance' to 'succeed'. Their definition of success doesn't seem to include having a happy, rounded, funny or spirited child. No, the modern parent wants their kid to grow up and become Prime Minister, at very least. We have entered an era in which the whole world is a league table and being a 'responsible' parent means wanting your kid to be top. Coaching has replaced parenting.

I don't blame Little C's nursery, which is a lovely, caring and happy place, for working to national requirements. I blame the arsed up, target-obsessed, crazily competitive modern world we have somehow managed to create over the last 30 years. Thatcher built the league table, New Labour provided the points system. We seem to be determined to take the personality and fun out of everything, to boil everything in life - whether it's a job interview, a holiday, a house sale or a three year old's daily activities in a nursery - down to a series of pre-ordained standards which must be met. 'Success' is defined by these standards alone and success is all that matters. It's like the whole world has turned into a Citizen's fucking Charter.

How do we protect Little C from this madness? We can only do so by telling her just to try her best, be herself, be kind to others and have fun. We will try to explain that the adult world is increasingly insane. We will make it clear that we don't want her to be the Prime Minister, or even the new Oscar Wilde, unless that's what she wants to be. And if she only wants beautiful things in her life, not scary or important ones, then who are to argue?