When I was strolling home from a mate’s house in Lanjaron with my two little boys on Saturday night – one snug in a buggy, the other walking beside me – a group of elderly ladies sitting on a bench waved and smiled at us. It struck me that if we had been traversing an English street at 11pm, local people might be more inclined to call the police and report Mummy for not having the boys in bed by 8pm.
In a similar vein, I was browsing people’s English Facebook status updates recently and one Mum reported that the police had turned up – sirens and all – because she’d left her child sleeping in the car outside her house for a short while. Surely this is a tad heavy handed? If the car door was open and the key in the ignition or the vehicle was parked in bright sunshine, fair enough – remedial action would be required. However, I’ve left my two boys sleeping in the van for 10 minutes occasionally while unloading my shopping here in Spain of an evening (one pair of hands does not carry two tired children and several shopping bags simultaneously!) and I’d be surprised if the Guardia Civil or Local Policia turned up to check us out. And why is that? Because people here are more chilled out towards kids, life and ‘health and safety risk’ in general and they don’t spend their lives obsessing 24/7 about paedophiles and child-snatchers.
Yes, we need to watch out for “nasty people” and make our kids aware that they shouldn’t put themselves in danger. However, the English fixation with monitoring everything and everyone with a fine toothcomb in case there’s a paedophile at large is clearly leading to an unhealthy fascination with the whole subject and causing ‘normal’ upstanding citizens to focus unduly on the topic of child sex, child nakedness, ‘rude’ photos, etc., etc., when they should be focusing on having innocent fun with their offspring instead. I’d even hedge a bet that more of this content is looked up online these days because of the endless publicity it has received. And Brits seem to forget that the odds of having a car accident or being run over in the street are higher than turning into the next unfortunate McCann family. But we don’t all avoid our cars, do we, in case we have a fatal crash on the motorway?
As a friend of mine who used to work in child protection said: “all this focus on who might be a paedophile yet most children are abused by someone they know, not by a stranger”. And, as a result, kids don’t play outside in England as much as they should: they sit inside using their PS3, watching TV, gorging on pizza and chips and becoming unnecessarily obese.
As well as being gripped by a moral panic concerning other people’s proclivities, in England, kids aren’t allowed to be kids: we’re still partly living in the Victorian “should be seen and not heard” era. I was in a coffee shop in the entrance to the Granada branch of Alcampo (similar to ASDA) the other day and a charity volunteer was giving children swords made out of balloons. Several Spanish kids were rushing around bashing each other with the aforementioned balloon swords and screeching merrily. Imagine if that happened in ASDA? Some disgruntled shopper would surely call security to tick off the parents and ask the kids to pipe down.
OK, so my boys can be noisy and badly behaved at times – they can also bounce off walls if they’ve eaten sugar. And that’s not ideal when it happens outside my own home. But nothing gives English people the divine right to glare at my family because the boys have moved a few metres away from their seats in a cafe or restaurant. My elderly Mum almost freaked out in a Sainsburys cafe in Northumberland because so many fellow diners were staring at the boys in a most unfriendly manner as they checked out their surroundings. Furthermore, it’s unnatural for toddlers to remain seated and perfectly still for the duration of – for example – a two or three course meal. I challenge the ‘starers and glarers’ to do better at ‘child calming’ themselves! Experience demonstrates that this sort of ‘nay saying’ doesn’t happen here in Spain. As long as the kids aren’t tripping up customers or waiters, rolling on the floor, screaming, throwing food around, feeding stray cats, etc., natural movement is simply accepted as “what kids do”. Other customers are more likely to give them a pat on the head or a lolly than make snide comments about “kids being out of control”.
On my other blog – “Letting off Steam” for the Brighton Argus – I recently mentioned how Spanish people will approach you and get involved if they think your kids are too hot / too cold / need some sort of attention. In England, everyone seems keen to tut tut and express a negative opinion but they steer clear of (for example), telling Mum that it’s dangerous and stupid to place a five month old baby in direct sunlight for several hours on Brighton beach (the baby concerned had to be hospitalised with 20 degree burns). As also stated on my other blog, I feel sure that family-orientated Spanish sunbathers would have spotted the hideous oversight and intervened before it was too late.
So there we have it: good old Blighty! The citizens can continue to maintain a safe distance from the rest of the community while sneering at other people’s parenting abilities and rolling their eyes at kids who are behaving “age appropriately” (i.e. moving around) in a social setting, such as a cafe or pub. And the end result? “Broken binge drinking Britain” where school-age kids need ASBOs, teenagers are overdosing on “meow”, and legislation combined with the pervading culture makes it difficult for one’s family to enjoy a bar snack in a licensed premises after 7pm.
On just about all fronts, Spain has a demonstrably better idea of how to maintain “family values”, methinks. And the Spanish community can stage an event such as the Lanjaron ‘Fiesta de Agua Y Jamon’ in June – where all generations from age zero to 90 celebrate together and a large water fight takes place on the final night – without it descending into an event requiring crowd control, riot police, involvement from social services and/or accidental injury lawyers to handle specialist cases from people who tripped over in their wet flip flops and bruised their ankle. “Viva Espana para la familia”, I say!