Sunday, February 15, 2009

Boy age 13 becomes a father - provokes debate about "broken Britain"

The shocking headlines declaring that a boy of 13 becomes a father has provoked a fierce debate by politicians , parents and the media about "broken Britain". Alfie Patten was just 12 when he and Chantelle Steadman, 15, conceived their child. It's very sad. It's also not surprising when you consider that the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe. I think stories like this are only going to become more common as society breaks down even more than it has already. Unfortunately, too many children don't have loving parents or they are being raised by a struggling single parent without any other family support. Also, there are too many homes where children aren't getting any discipline at all or they are probably being left alone to fend for themselves most of the time. And as more details were released about the case, it was reported that Alfie's older sister had a baby at the same age. It does seem to point to a problem regarding the way the children in the family are being parented. There is another very unsettling part to the whole story and that's the way the story is being covered by the media. It seems to me that at least one of the parents has already shown what disregard they have for their children by allowing the media access to their photos and to be interviewed on TV. A parent had to give consent. It's a shame that rather than try to protect their privacy, the families seem to be doing the exact opposite. And then lo and behold, there is this disgraceful news: Alfie Patten stands to make a small fortune from the story of how he fathered a child at 13. Charming! And what kind of message does this send to teenagers? Yes the media are behaving despicably but the parents had to give their consent to it. They don't seem to care about the privacy of their children. I think the involvement with the media is making the situation so much worse. And I don't think it's right to give the children special status by flattering them with interviews and certainly not by rewarding them with financial deals. In an ideal world, children are allowed (and encouraged) to have a childhood. I think there are a lot of factors (the over-sexualisation of society is certainly a factor) contributing to a story such as this but I also believe the parents are the most important factor. The government can make sure schools provide sex education but it's very difficult (actually nearly impossible) to ensure good parenting for all children. And as if all of this isn't enough to contemplate and discuss, now there is the news of a dispute over who fathered the child: Alfie Patten may take DNA test after two more teens claim paternity (link via telegraph.co.uk) The whole story is turning into a sad, tawdry soap-opera, only it's real life, unfortunately. And it involves children. Children having children. What are your thoughts?

12 comments:

  1. This story reinforces our decision to flee Down Under after our son was born. I loved Britain but didn't want to raise kids there.

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  2. My sons were both born in England and have grown up to be wonderful young men (they are now 17 and 20) but I can certainly understand your decision. It does seem like British society is indeed "broken" and sadly it seems to be getting worse all the time, not better.

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  3. This story in unbelievable !!!

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  4. Indeed, it is. Sadly it's true though.

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  5. Now, why am I not surprised that those same irresponsible parents would get pound signs in their eyes? Have you been following the octuplets story? In an even more bizarre twist, it seems the mother is obsessed with Angelina Jolie's brood and what's more, she even looks like her! The point here is that we have become cultures that are far too impressed by celebrity and fame.

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  6. Yes, I've read some of the octuplets story - it's difficult to avoid it. It's true that our cultures are far too obsessed with celebrity and fame but they wouldn't even consider getting in their situations if they weren't rewarded with state benefits and media attention.

    I think the pendulum has swung so far the other way now that instead of teens feeling embarrassed or ashamed about having sex and getting pregnant or indeed having to consider the financial repercussions, society has made it something to be proud of and rewards them with a whole list of benefits. The incentive in Britain is to get pregnant and not to work. And once this spiral starts, it just keeps on going. They have babies when they are 13, 14, 15 and then those babies grow up to do the same thing.

    It's the state benefits in particular that exacerbates the problem of rising teenage pregnancies in Britain.

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  7. I first learnt about this story when I happened to glance at the headline of someone reading the Sun newspaper on the tube. I immediately knew this was going to be another one of those instances when the politicians would talk about 'broken Britain' and start condemning all involved.

    I don't believe that Britain is 'broken' at all. Yes, we have problems, but events such as this one have almost certainly happened before in the past and will do so again in the future. It's simply that in the present media-centric age, everything is blown out of proportion and commercialised.

    The fact is that the children involved were both from very poor, working-class backgrounds. This is why the story causes me no real shock--sadly, it's something to be expected. Instead of concentrating on reducing teenage pregnancy, the government should try to help these people achieve a better sense of worth and purpose in life, so they aren't reduced to trying these sorts of publicity stunts. The reduction in teen pregnancies will follow.

    What I *am* worried about is why, after so many years of so-called 'sexual liberation', modern teenagers seem to have absolutely no idea about birth control or how the reproductive system works.

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  8. Daniel, I think being from poor, working-class backgrounds is highly likely to be a factor in this case but it doesn't automatically mean that under-age pregnancies don't happen in well-off famiilies too because they do.

    You say that "...the government should try to help these people achieve a better sense of worth and purpose in life, so they aren't reduced to trying these sorts of publicity stunts." In what way can the government help improve their self-worth?

    I've read that Chantelle's parents are both unemployed and the family lives on benefits. I don't know how much their handouts are from the government already but I really don't think giving more benefits would be a way to give them a better sense of worth. And even if they are struggling financially, I can't understand how any decent parents could resort to selling the sordid details about their children to the highest bidder.

    I think the reason sex-education is failing to prevent teen pregnancies is down to a couple factors. First, too many children aren't being parented properly. In this particular case, it's been reported that Chantelle's parents allowed Alfie to sleep in her room! Secondly, sex education in schools only works with support from the parents - that means the parents have to at least make sure their children actually go to school. Today, it's been reported that Alfie was regularly absent during a five-month period last year!

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  9. Maureen, I agree that the last thing the government needs to do is offer more benefits to families such as these. What they need is real support, a good education, and good jobs. It's my belief that work (or a vocation) is what really defines an individual in life. A lot of these people simply have no genuine sense of purpose in life, not even being a good parent. Many of them would have no problem with selling details of their children to the highest bidder, simply because they do not see anything wrong with it. It is a way to get easy money, after all, which is what they are used to. Remember the case of Karen Mathews, not so long ago?

    Certainly, we have to find a way of breaking this vicious cycle, where bad parenting is handed down from generation to generation.

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  10. You're right, Daniel. We need to find a way of breaking this vicious cycle, where bad parenting is handed down from generation to generation. I'm not sure what the answer is.

    There are various programmes to help parents such as Home-Start: http://www.home-start.org.uk/ - a charity helping families with young children. And after the birth of a child, a health visitor helps to spot potential problems and decides if a family should be getting help or monitored through social services. But obviously, there are many families who either aren't being supported or perhaps are refusing assistance, and their dysfunctional parenting style continues to perpetuate the cycle of children learning by example and in turn raising their children in the same way.

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  11. it certainly is true that this sort of things happens at all levels of the social ladder but I remember reading that middle class girls were 3 times more likely to have an abortion.

    Obviously the ideal solution is that children aren't sexually active and that if they are, they use contraception and that mistakes would never happen but come on that's never going to happen.

    What the staistic above suggests to me that these girls are more aware of the impact that having children will have on their lives. I would also guess that these girls are more likely to have used contraception that failed as they appear to have more foresight. The girls are clearly making decisions based on their own ambition and the fear and shame of having to confront a parent.

    I also find it ironic that we refer to those who live permanently on benefit as 'working class' - it's an insult to everyone as we all know that they don't.

    However, a lot of these children have low self-esteem, and believe that they cannot achieve and so would rather not go to school and fail than go to school and fail. Research shows that those out of work for long periods of time suffer in a similar way. People need to be encouraged to go rewarding and engaging work on a short term basis to build up confidence and a sense of achievement. It's only when they believe that they can do it that we can expect them to take a leap into the unknown. We need to stop creating systems which rely on tick boxes and jumping through hoops. Those schemes can always be manipulated.

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  12. I agree that low self esteem is certainly a factor. These young girls (and boys) obviously don't have a strong sense of self worth.

    I also agree that "people need to be encouraged to go rewarding and engaging work on a short term basis to build up confidence and a sense of achievement" but I think the welfare state in Britain has made it too easy for people to lead a fairly comfortable life without working.

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