We're Number One!

USA! USA! With the UK, we top the list of the worst industrialized nations in which to be a kid. Go America! We're number one!

A new report from the U.N. Children's Fund says the United States and Britain are the worst countries in the industrialized world in which to be a child. UNICEF says an examination of 40 factors, such as poverty, deprivation, happiness, relationships, and risky or bad behavior puts the United States and Britain at the bottom of a list of 21 economically developed nations.
It seems that we "fared worst of all 21 countries in health and safety," after infant mortality rates and childhood accidents and injuries were measured. And the US and UK were "lowest overall in the category of behavior and risks," with Yankee and Brit kids more likely to "use drugs, drink alcohol, and be sexually active than children elsewhere." Now, Britain, I understand. Mr. Shakes has told me devastating tales about how horrible childhood is in Britain—he was made to live in a workhouse with other deprived, half-starved, sooty-faced children, where they were forced to sing for their gruel and if anyone asked for more, they were sold for a pittance to a creepy undertaker who would lock them in coffins if they misbehaved. That's how life is for most kids in Britain, so it's no wonder they turn to drug and drink at an early age. And what with the emergence of bank cards, there's no luck in pick-pocketing anymore, so most British children have to become prostitutes when they inevitably flee to work the streets of London. It's a terrible tragedy, really—and the godless British adults don't care, what with being busy drinking their Limey selves into a stupor every night while entranced by the devilry that is soccer anyhow.

But America? In America, we do everything for Teh Children! It's the total opposite of British apathy, where children are hardly ever thought about unless some rich bloke has a dirty chimney in need of sweeping. Here, we invoke Teh Children all the time—no boobies on telly because of Teh Children, no bad words on telly because of Teh Children, no pictures of war dead on telly because of Teh Children. Teh Children are almost all our politicians ever talk about, and how much we don't want to leave any of them behind, roofs in NOLA notwithstanding, so how can we not be putting food on our children and making sure they is learning and having doctors show their love on them with all this talking about Teh Children that we do?

It's not that developed welfare states necessarily have happier children, says David Parker of UNICEF.

"I think what we know from history in the U.S.," Parker says, "is that it's not necessarily how the welfare is provided but the nature of the support. One of the key things is that the role of government is important, but the entire society must have at its heart the idea of improving child well-being."
Oh. Does that mean we should, like, pay attention to things like how abstinence-only sex education doesn't actually work? I mean, I know comprehensive sex education genuinely improves children's well-being and stuff, but it doesn't sound as good as a commitment to teaching kids they should never have sex. Darn it.

And moving back to less facetious shores… The first clue that repression might have something to do with these results is that the Netherlands—you know, the first country in the world to grant same-sex marriage equality, where soft drugs like shrooms and pot are sold at "coffee shops," and prostitution and euthanasia are legal—is the best country in the industrialized world for children, "followed closely by the Scandinavian countries." These countries all have "highly developed welfare systems," which means—gasp!—socialized programs, to which Americans have an evident fatal allergy. But beyond that, they also have a mature attitude toward drugs, alcohol, and sex, namely that most people are going to have a passing familiarity with at least one and usually all three, and pretending that isn't so doesn't make it not so. And trying to make it not so with criminalization or taboo just makes them more attractive to the very people least prepared to engage with them—kids.

And, you know, anyone with two brain cells knocking together can probably do the basic math required to calculate how different the American landscape might look if we had used all the money allocated for investigating and impeding the cultivation, processing, trafficking, and sale of marijuana for the past four decades to build state-of-the-art childcare facilities and train people to staff them instead. I know that makes me sound like a pinko commie, but if the government's going to use my tax dollars for something for which I'll never have any use, I'd rather see working parents have a place to take their kids that they can trust than see some fast food parking lot pot dealer thrown in the clink to be raped within an inch of his life. I'm just saying.

The other interesting thing about the Netherlands and Scandinavia is that they are notably more egalitarian with regard to sex, gender, and sexuality than the US and the UK. One might reasonably suggest that girls growing up in cultures where they feel equal to their male counterparts, and LGBTQ youth growing up in cultures where they are regarded as equals by their parents, peers, and government, creates less depression and less need to find acceptance—two things intimately associated with substance abuse and early sexual activity.

One might also reasonably suggest that a nation with an official policy endorsing torture shouldn't be surprised its children suffer greater incidents of bullying, and a nation whose national policy is driven by fear shouldn't be surprised its children suffer greater levels of anxiety and stress, and a nation that routinely espouses gluttonous consumerism shouldn't be surprised its children always seem to feel like there's something they need, and thusly something missing.

But then again, reason doesn't seem to enter into these conversations very often, does it?

Never mind all that.


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