The Borgen Effect

March 7th, 2012

In my last post about the links between work culture, consumerism and child wellbeing I didn’t mention Borgen – but it seems that the Danish cult show is prompting women in this country to make the same links.

The BBC in Scotland and then in England has been talking to women MSPs and MPs …


On February 6th I was invited to give a talk at Godolphin and Latymer School for girls in West London.  The audience of parents, friends and students was highly involved and a great discussion was generated.  I was really impressed by the two Year 12 students who welcomed me as they had really done their homework on the subject.  The title was “Everyone thinks you’re awesome if you’ve got a Ferarri” (the words of a 10 year old boy in the research I recently did with Ipsos MORI for Unicef UK) and I examined the extent to which this is true in contemporary UK society.  Do we really think people are awesome just by dint of what they own?  Read the Unicef UK report which you can find on my website for the full answer … but the core of the message is that in a culture like ours in which there is both great income inequality and a high level of commercialism, the outcome for the happiness of our children (and indeed our parents) is not good.

New research is beginning to show a complex web wherein long working hours give parents little time to interact with their children but the money to buy them desirable brands.  And within our current culture of fearful parenting, parents also say that they buy these brands to stop their children being bullied.  When we stop to think about that it doesn’t make sense.  Buying your son an iPad might allow him to feel included for a couple of days but in the long term it won’t teach him how to be resilient or much about the dynamics of bullying.  But then, we rarely seem to have time to stop and think.

Whilst a standard response to consumer culture is to curb advertising and marketing, there are more complex forces at play which we also have to address.  I was most struck by a conversation I had with a mother after the event about the lack of senior-level part-time employment opportunities.  Parents in professional jobs who would like to spend more time and less money on their children can find themselves seriously compromised because employers who respect and accommodate parenthood are hard to find.  So they have to choose between a rewarding job and rewarding time with their children.  Surely we shouldn’t have to make this choice.

I think we have a new challenge in tackling the commercialisation of childhood  –  tackling our employment culture.