According to Unicef, Germany’s children are more dissatisfied than in neighboring countries. The happiness of the little ones is too rarely the focus, says our author.
Adults don’t yell enough for children Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
An unhappy child is like a summer thunderstorm – or should be: one that comes out of nowhere and hits hard. After the storm, the coast is clear, the tears evaporate, and there’s a big ice cream.
When I once asked my older kids how they felt about my new partner and me having a baby, the answer was, "Medium." That was a cool expression of unhappiness – not so much about the new addition to our scrambled family, but about the past, the failed relationship, whose sufferers were not least them. My older children were unhappy because I put them in situations that they did not choose, that they had no control over. And my task as an adult was to stand by my decisions and prove through my actions that I had always considered them. So as to simultaneously take their unhappiness seriously and lift it up.
When children are unhappy over a long period of time, it is always adults who are responsible, never other children. The aid organization Unicef has now appealed to the governments of industrialized countries to pay more attention to the welfare of children in their policies. This focus is surprising and perhaps even alienating on days when we are faced with the image of two-year-old Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy in the red shirt whose body was found on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast five years ago on September 2. On the other hand, isn’t every Western child mishap simply a form of wealth neglect?
Two days ago, there was also a column in the Austrian Standard that is by no means alone in its tone: Under the title "Patchwork Hell," it talks about spoiled children who should be avoided "on a large scale. Parental guilt complexes are to blame for the prepotently behaving brats, giving the little ones "infinite power": "French fries at all times of the day and night – otherwise Rocco and Lea-Minou threaten to terminate their eternal love. Otherwise, they’ll drum their fists on the clinker floor in the pub and yell for an hour straight."
Liberated from permanent unhappiness
I’m never actually bothered by children yelling. Because first, the roar is at least a hint, usually one that cannot be articulated in any other way, that something is wrong. And secondly, there is far too little shouting from the adult side for children. Support for children and their families in industrialized countries during the Covid 19 pandemic has been woefully inadequate, says Unicef.
Recently, a reader wrote to us to ask how he was supposed to convey the dangers of contracting the covid-19 virus to young people in his care, when they could watch, live-streamed and bombastically advertised, dozens of people in soccer stadiums exchanging aerosols without mouth guards.
One should not be deceived by snappy columns and Sunday speeches: In Germany, only one group is still in last place behind children in terms of society’s actual care for them – and that is the children of the poor and disenfranchised. This is evident in social policy, in school policy, in traffic policy, in the fight against crime. The rule is: Something horrible always has to happen first so that something might move. An adult society would put the child in the center of attention without becoming childish about it. It is not impossible to free a child from permanent unhappiness. But more than an ice cream is needed.