Sarah Newton your Gen-Y Guide helps to de-mystify the world of the next generation. Through her coaching and consulting she helps parents, schools and companies connect, engage and motivate young people for lasting results.
How does parenting in other countries differ? Are teenagers from other countries different?
What are the main difference between parenting in the UK and the US? This is the question that the incredible Vanessa Van Petten asked me to write about. So here goes, and remember that I am making generalizations here and I know that each family, child and parent is unique. I have lived in the US and I have coached many families from both the UK and the US and these differences are the things that I see the most.
1. Age Limit
I know, I know, a very strange place to start however these limits make a huge impact on how we parent and the effect it has on teenagers. In the UK the legal age to drink is 18 (not 21 as in the US) and you hardly ever get asked for ID in the UK. Most self-respecting teenagers in the UK can and do get into pubs and clubs from the age of 14, no questions asked. What this means for parents is that in the UK, they deal with drink-related behaviour from a much earlier age and that, coupled with the fact that we are mixing drink and a very immature child, can lead to disaster. In the UK we have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, the highest amount of binge drinkers in young people and an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among our young people. Parents in the UK need to be much more vigilant in teaching their children about the dangers of drink, drugs, unprotected sex, etc. However for a country that is notable for having a stiff upper lip and not really talking about their feelings, this can make for a toxic mix. Drinking and drinking a lot is, unfortunately, a way of life in the UK for young people and I remember at the age of 21, when I lived in the States, my US counterparts being amazed at how much alcohol us Brits did indeed drink. The US has seen nothing until they party with a group of UK teenagers. Alcohol and pubs are so much a part of UK culture, a fact I am not proud of and a worrying phenomenon that need addressing.
2. The Land of Opportunity – Not!
If the US is the land of opportunity then the UK is, I believe, the complete opposite – the land of know your place and stick in it. Our class system, although slightly broken down, is very much alive and the good schools and colleges reserved for the wealthy. Our deep history of aristocrats and royalty has made sure that even in centuries to come, moving from the lower working class up to the middle and upper class in nigh on impossible. Whether this is perceived or real is debatable, but as a working class girl born and bred who did move up the ladder, I believe it is firmly alive. In the UK you are working class, middle class or upper class and that determines in essence where you end up in life. It determines who you are surrounded by, which school you go to what your parents and others expect of you, your accent and largely the goals you will set for yourself. To think outside these boxes can be challenging and hard and takes a very strong and determined personality. Instead of parents or teachers encouraging children to move above and beyond what is possible for them we are, in this country, largely required and even encouraged in some cases, to know our place and stick to it. It is no surprise that children and teenagers in the UK have been named as some of the unhappy in the world! This lack of hope and a cutting off of opportunity can really make our children extremely unhappy. We need to help our children believe anything is possible and really that success favours the brave and break down these barriers to allow everyone to feel they are equal.
3. 3. Religion
Ok I have to put this in as in the UK we are becoming a nation of heathens. Sunday morning is now reserved for the local D.I.Y megastore rather than church. As a nation we are non-believers, with the numbers of churchgoers falling and falling dramatically. To find a family that go to church seems to be an exception rather than the norm. For example, in my daughter’s school I can only name 2 of her friends that attend church. In fact, if you do attend church you are seen as very strange. As for young people and church, well the figures are even worse. When our Prime Minister mentioned that he believed in God there was an outcry in the media, with him been branded as an oddball. If our Prime Minister was to mention God as much as the US President and president-in-waiting does then I tell you, he would be flung out! God is just something that we Brits do not do. Hence young people do appear to have a sense of purposelessness, not being able to see the bigger picture. As for virginity pledges and sex before marriage, our young people would not even entertain that concept, to believe in something like this would just be seen as extremely uncool. God is totally out, I am afraid.
4. 4. Let’s talk about SEX
Or let’s not if you are a Brit… we have a very mixed attitude towards sex in this country. One of our daily papers has on Page 3, pictures of topless women or nude women in provocative poses. This paper has no rating on it and anyone can purchase this paper, yet when our TV stars wear revealing tops on prime-time TV, the media cause an uproar. Pictures of half naked women appear to be quite acceptable in this country and can be seen in everyday newspapers to offices around the country, yet when it comes to talking about sex with our young people we do an appalling job! Hence why we have such a high pregnancy rate among young people. The Government’s answer is to teach sex education to 5-year-olds! We give out so many mixed messages in this country; really what we need to do is to learn how to talk openly and honestly about the things that really matter.
5. Soft and Fluffy
As a nation, the Brits do not really do that touchy-feely stuff and secretly still live by the code that our children should be seen and not heard. We approach life with a stiff upper lip and expect our children just to get on with it. As for talking about our feelings and communicating, well let’s just say this is not our strong point. Some UK households will even find the whole family watching the same TV programmes on separate TV’s in separate rooms of the house. We just do not talk and communicate enough with our teenagers at all in the UK, hence them forming their own peer gangs and learning from each other, rather than their parents. We need to be more involved and interested in their lives and encourage family communication. Family night, date nights and that sort of thing are alien concepts here.
I hope this has given you a little insight into the challenges that parents in the UK face and if you would like to share your own experiences of parenting in the UK, US or any other country for that matter get in touch with me or Vanessa; we would love to hear from you.