Tuesday, June 18 2024
Aric Sigman. The Spoilt Generation. Why Restoring Authority Will Make Our Children and Society Happier
. Piatkus, Londra 2009

British children are the unhappiest in the West, according to a UNICEF
study covering 21 of the most industrialized countries. The United
States is a runner-up. A study funded by the British government proved
that the number of children with psychiatric illnesses has doubled in
the last 30 years. One in ten children suffers from disorders such as
depression, anorexia, anxiety, or antisocial behavior.

Paradoxically, in more “advanced” Western societies, there is a
hyper-protective political and cultural climate of child rights. The
result, however, is that we are creating a generation of spoiled
children and youth who are tyrants at home and socially unviable. Other
educational bodies, such as teachers, are incapable of setting limits
and exercising their authority over spoiled youth and children.

This is the alarming yet firmly backed complaint made by Dr. Aric
Sigman, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and the British
Psychological Society, father of four children, who often intervenes in
national media for issues on education and the family. Sigman has
already published Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives.

With a dynamic, colorful, and colloquial language – in some cases very
colloquial- and an abundance of scientific data and statistics, the
author presents the causes of this situation. Overworked and tired
parents can barely spend time with their children. There are more
broken and “blended” families in which children learn to emotionally
blackmail their parents who feel guilty. There is a cultural climate
that homogenizes the role of father and mother, thus confusing the
psychology of children regarding the need of complementary roles and
not “two mothers” (one owner and another assistant).The value of
fatherhood is diminishing in modern society. A great deal of external
child care is employed due to the working conditions of society. The
parents who uncritically absorb a libertarian educational philosophy
become confused as to their role as educators.

The bulk of the book develops these factors. I will focus on a few
relevant points regarding the “media factor”, having in mind the
interests of the readers of our site.

media factor

A separate chapter is dedicated to the “media factor”, whose influence
is both driven by and amplifies the preceding factors. One of the
researchers on the influence of the media world’s well-respected,
George Gerbner, suitably cited in the book, affirms: “For the first
time in human history, most of the stories are told to most of the
children not by their parents, their school or their church, but by a
group of distant corporations that have something to sell”

“In Freudian terms –says Sigman-, modern, compelling media stimulates
our child’s id, the department of instant gratification and
pleasure-seeking impulses and basement of the three-tier structure of
our personality. But in doing so, they turn their inclinations into
expectations and distort their development” (p. 118). Freud aside,
recent studies show that neuronal activity in the frontal lobe of the
brain, linked to decision-making, impulse control, and behavior,
decreases in those who watch more violent scenes on TV. This impacts
aggressive behavior, especially in young people diagnosed with DBD
(disruptive behavior disorder).

The brain areas related to empathy, which is crucially important for
understanding others’ emotions and thus for the social life is not
stimulated when surfing the Web (p. 121). In turn, the areas related to
the simultaneous attention are stimulated, favoring the so-called

It is noted that overall, as early as the year 2000, people spend more
time in the virtual world than engaging in real relationships with
others. We ignore the consequences that this may bear on children’s
behavior and development. They will certainly be different. Whether or
not the eyes are the windows of the soul, as the saying goes, the truth
is that ” they are window to the emotional brain,” according to a study
by the School of Medicine of the University of San Diego in California:
“We know that the eye-to-eye communication –which is affected by
oxytocin –is critical to intimate emotional communication for all kinds
of emotions –love, fear, trust, anxiety.” (p. 128)

Dining together and mental health

Finally, among the studies, I will highlight some statistical data that
speaks to common sense. A study by Columbia University (New York)
reports that “having at least one parent at dinner with their child
regularly was found to prevent depression, anxiety and substance abuse
in children, who also achieve higher grades in school, compared to
those children who dine on their own”. Similar results show up in
related studies (pp. 125 et seq.)

It might seem like discovering hot water. Wiser cultures have
understood without empirical studies that eating together-and well if
possible, in a human and civilized fashion, is an expression of
civility and it forms culture. In any case, if the statistic also gives
us another reason to turn off the television while the family is at the
table, that statistic is surely welcomed.

Speaking of food and the media, I would like to emphasize an
interesting argument posed by Sigman in his book. No parent in their
right mind would put a refrigerator in their child’s bedroom so that
they could manage their own diet. Many parents nevertheless delegate
the decision regarding their “media diet” to their children. A
television or a computer connected to the Internet is to be found in
their room at their command.

The book, inspiring and entertaining, without philosophical or
scholarly pretentions, is highly recommended for family counselors and
scholars on their area of the family. It revolves around a simple idea
and a proposal. Authority in the family must be restored, so that the
parents resume their role as educators. Only then will young people be
prepared to be socially viable. The diagnosis is not just for the
Western industrial societies, where the author bases his observations


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