I was puzzled this morning to see a news report about new child wellbeing statistics for Europe by the Child Poverty Action Group which placed Greece at number 24 out of 29 countries, just above the United Kingdom at number 25.
The usual countries like Sweden, Finland etc were near the top and the Netherlands came out at number one.
How could this be? Can Greece really be only just about marginally better to raise a child in than the UK? I'm not a parent so I'm not exposed to a child's view of life in Greece. Let's take the points one by one:
Greece: Overall rank 24 our of 29
Health: 29 out of 29
This could be true. A public health system does exist in Greece, theoretically for free, but like with all other things, nothing gets done without bribes being exchanged. Practically everyone has health insurance for private hospitals as most Greeks will snootily tell you that government hospitals are only for gypsies.
However, if you turn up at a hospital needing urgent treatment, you will not be turned away for lack of hard cash or insurance to cover you. You will get treated.
The Greeks also have some of the worst teeth I've ever seen which is saying something after life in the Home Country. I don't really understand that, since the diet is quite healthy in my observation, yet if you stood on the street and did a random count, you'd be left thinking most people in Greece really can not afford a dentist. Or a toothbrush. But do Greek kids have the worst teeth and health in Europe??? I doubt it.
Subjective Wellbeing: 3 out of 29
Now this is telling, because this measures what the kids surveyed actually thought their own lives were like, and they seem to think their lives are pretty good. Either they're seriously delusional (along with me who thinks Greece would be a super place for kids) or their actually lives and their lives as on papers and statistics are quite different.
Children's Relationships: 23 out of 29
This measured how well children were able to talk to and get along with their peers and adults. Confusing, once more. On one hand, the Greek approach to parenting is like the Greek approach to any other problem: either bribe away the problem or scream away the problem. If you've ever been to Jumbo you'll see this gloriously illustrated.
On the other hand, children in Greece are the absolute centre of everyone's universe. They are adored and longed for and their futures dreamt about by grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc long before they're even in existence.
When I take my replacement-for-a-child doggy out for walks, I very often see grandparents out with strollers talking to their teeny tiny charges, describing everything they can see to infants often just a few months old. I'd say that's some pretty solid bond forming. So I don't know what to think of that one except to say maybe kids in Greece don't get along that well with other kids in Greece.
Material Resources :19 out of 29
Indicated by income, access to material goods and parental unemployment. Could be true. Mr Zues and I pay more in utility bills per quarter for our tiny flat than my parents do in the UK per year for a whole house, and we don't even have children. God only knows how parents get along in Greece with the cost of day to day living being so high. Food, clothes and day to day living costs a lot in Greece, and that's for a moderate lifestyle.
Greece also has a high rate of female parent unemployment. But then have you ever been to visit a Greek baby at home? They live in permanent danger of being squashed to death by the mountains of toys that are lavished upon them. Either this is an extreme exception, or Greek kids like all kids everywhere are greedy brats who watch those flashy toy adverts and always want more, more, MORE!!!!
Behaviour and Risk 22 out of 29:
I'm someone who spent much of my early years in the Home Country doing the following:
- Gallantly fulfilling dares to stick my little fingers into those perfectly child-finger sized electricity sockets,
- Eating the lead out of pencils (it was a craze in my class)
- Faking illnesses to win contests for who could pop the most pills at the school nurse's office
- Setting everything and anything on fire while my parents slept
- Finding snakes under pulled up rugs
- Throwing screaming tantrums in the bazaar because Mum wouldn't buy me whatever junk it was I simply had to have
- Sucking on sample tablets from my Dad's clinic until the sugar coating wore off
- Drinking and passing out on an entire bottle of cough syrup because I liked the taste
- Fishing for used syringes in Dad's clinic dustbin to inject my sick baby dolls with and
- Whiling away many an afternoon with my sisters strapping a blood pressure monitor armband around my neck and pumping it up until I could see stars. For those who don't know, that armband is supposed to go around your arm where it is pumped until the blood supply is temporarily cut off.
So who am I to say anything about a bit of bad behaviour and the stupid things that children do. Rather that than a sterile childhood, I say!
Education: 21 out of 29
I agree with this one. Kids in Greece face a really tough educational system in schools that are so run down they make even me feel appalled. The teachers are poorly paid and unmotivated and the children are kept on a constant treadmill of homework and tests that are so advanced for their age I really feel sorry for them.
Because this is the system I went through myself in the Home Country, and all it did was make me feel like an idiot through my entire school life until we came to the UK, where suddenly my teachers thought I was a genius because I was at a level at least four years ahead of the curriculum in the UK.
I feel bad for the kids in this system in Greece, because some of them will be like me and won't be able to keep up, and they will spend all their school lives thinking they're stupid or slow or can't work hard enough as a result.
Housing and Environment: 14 out of 29
Not the worst, but not good either. I can't speak for the rest of Greece by in Athens children grow up in tiny flats, sometimes without their own bedrooms (using the sitting room to sleep) and play on tarmac streets because there is a severe lack of both footpaths and green spaces in Athens.
So that's what the survery had to say and while some of it was true, I would still question Greece's ranking so low in the index. On paper it may look like children in Greece get a raw deal, but in practice, in terms of what I see around me, things are not so gloomy. Let's consider this for a second: the way children are raised in Greece has had some impact on lessening the effects of the credit crunch in Greece.
For a start, most parents try to provide their children with a flat of their own when they grow up. Secondly, a great family safety net exists here which means that it would be almost unheard of for someone to get their house repossessed because of falling back on mortgage payments. Your family would simply never allow that to happen and would pitch in to keep you from sinking.
Surveys can tell you a lot and they can also tell you nothing at all. Ask the right questions and you could come up with a different answer every time. I for one don't believe that Greece is such a rotten place for a child to grow up. If this survey were true, why would North Europe's happy and delighted children grow up to kill themselves and their peers in such great numbers?