Curious Georgie: Half a million unhappy kids - maybe they found out about Alan Milburn's report

Asking kids to clap their hands if they're happy and they know it, would produce less noise in England than you might expect

Jeremy Pardoe Alan Milburn MP
Alan Milburn MP

A new survey this week suggested I’d have a higher chance of being happy and satisfied with my lot if I lived in a country which isn’t as well developed as the green and pleasant land I currently call home.

The Children’s Society talked to 16,000 children while putting together the Good Childhood Report (the news of which was enough to get me to rework my bedtime story schedule, sharpish). The results of these conversations saw England ranked at 9th out of 11 - coming in below nations such as Romania, Brazil and South Africa - when it came to scoring how happy children were with their lives.

This is not good news when you consider that feelings of unhappiness - or ‘low wellbeing’ as the report calls it - can make health, education and family life a lot less fun for all concerned.

Around half a million kids (which is probably around how many there were at my favourite soft play the last time there was a torrential downpour) have low levels of wellbeing, which cannot be sniffed at.

Happiness is eluding too many of my contemporaries
Happiness is eluding too many of my contemporaries

At this point, I feel I must point out that by and large, I consider myself to be a happy-go-lucky (if sometimes a little feisty) three-year-old who has a bona fide treat of a life.

I love my Mum, Dad and Big Bro Fred even more than I love Kinder chocolate; I have a wider family of grandparentals, aunts, uncles and cousins who collectively bring me more joy than my Frozen DVD; and this week, my feet grew just enough to warrant the pair of purple painted leather sandals I’ve had my eye on for months.

But I’m starting to realise I’m not the only pre-schooler in the world, and hearing that lots of my contemporaries are less than happy, makes me unhappy too, which is only going to exacerbate the situation...

So what’s making everyone so down in the mouth?

One in eight of us are apparently unhappy with the way we look (not me, obviously, but I can report that a friend from nursery, who will remain nameless, is renowned for her pre-breakfast hissy fits about her hair), while one in three of us reckon the lack of money which has been around in the past few years hasn’t been in the least bit fun.

Lots of us are also worried about what the future holds, which I hadn’t really thought about thus far, but can now totally relate to, given the content of another one of the week’s big reports, which took a look at the types of people who end up telling the rest of us what to do.

The snappily-titled Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study looked at the back stories of more than 4,000 important people, and basically concluded that if you don’t go to a school which comes with a termly invoice, the chances of you ending up in one of those jobs are, shall we say, not great.

Speaking as someone who is hoping to go to the same wonderful you-don’t-have-to-pay-to-come-in primary as Big Bro Fred (I plan to keep my fingers crossed as much as possible between now and next Spring when we find out which school has hit the Georgie jackpot), this worries me a lot... particularly because having top notch blue-sky ideas and bossing people around are two of my favourite things to do.

So, in the spirit of Mum’s recent performance at a Provençal village fete ‘two balloons, one pellet’ (which I feel is a more humane saying than the one referring to a pair of unsuspecting birds and a menacing stone) I’ve decided to make it my mission to fly in the face of probability, get to the top of the tree and become the Minister for Universal Happiness. Who’s with me?

A Gold Star for BabyX

Every week I award a gold star to a child of my choosing. The child in question may be real or fictional, historic or current, and the award may be for a specific act or a wider body of work. Basically they are my stars and I’ll give them to whoever I choose, assuming I don’t stick them all to the lounge telly first.

As a 21st century girl, I’m no stranger to the concept of artificial intelligence, or AI for those of us that know the lingo.

On my tablet I have an app for a virtual dog called Talking Ben, who will instantly forget all the times I’ve poked him in the eye or left him to his own devices for weeks at a time if I simply give him a treat and a quick belly rub.

Fellow dog owners will know that this is a frighteningly accurate simulation.

On a similar note, it’s usually about this time of year that my Dad starts getting excited about the latest iteration of FIFA Soccer, the globally popular computer game that repeatedly claims to be a more accurate at modelling the behaviour of 22 supposedly grown men than the previous year’s effort.

In FIFA 15 I’m guessing all 22 of the AI masterminds will still blindly chase the ball all day, as they have done in every edition to date, but I’m sure it’ll be good enough for Dad and his worn out thumbs.

If you’re wondering “where next?” for the software engineers that now think they can make computers think like animals and people, the answer might surprise you.

 

Scientists and programmers at Auckland University have designed BabyX, a virtual toddler that will learn and develop like a human baby
Scientists and programmers at Auckland University have designed BabyX, a virtual toddler that will learn and develop like a human baby

 

Scientists and programmers at Auckland University have designed BabyX, a virtual toddler that will learn and develop like a human baby.

The young ‘boy’ has a virtual on-screen face, and can engage with real adults via cameras and microphones. The theory is that if the computer can ‘learn’ intelligence like a real child it will be able to develop more complicated and natural behaviours than those that can be programmed in manually, and eventually develop into an artificially intelligent adult.

If things go as planned Dad might just get a bit of a shock in FIFA 2025 when his centre forward decides to stop running after the ball, and sit down with a virtual cup of tea and a book instead.

This week, I Now Know...

... pandas are smarter than your average bear... The pitter patter of tiny paws was eagerly awaited recently at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Centre in China, where giant panda Ai Hin, was showing signs of pregnancy. However experts now think the cheeky Panda was pretending to have a baby in her tummy to get extra perks, such as a single, air-conditioned room, as well as more buns, fruit and bamboo than her non-pregnant buddies. “Some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life,” Wu Kongju, an expert at the Chengdu research base of giant panda breeding, told Xinhua. It turns out not everything in black and white makes sense after all.

 

Things are not always black and white when it comes to those clever pandas
Things are not always black and white when it comes to those clever pandas
 

 

... Hello Kitty is 40... Which isn’t surprising in itself, but in the ensuing celebrations it has emerged that Sanrio, the creator of the popular children’s character, doesn’t see her as a cat but a young girl. Yep, that would be a young girl with pointy ears and whiskers. US singer Josh Groban shares my confusion, tweeting “Hello Kitty is a cat. She has whiskers and a cat nose. Girls don’t look like that. Stop this nonsense.” A beacon of common sense as well as a fine singer and gentleman.

... what happens when Baked Alaska is left out of the freezer... If you aren’t already au fait with “Bingate” then you’ve either spent the last week in a cave, or like me you go to bed at 7.30pm. Was the Great British Bake Off’s biggest drama since its last soggy bottom calculated sabotage, or an accident on the part of Diana Beard? Either way it was a waste of perfectly good ice cream.

 

The England manager has named Wayne Rooney as his captain.
The England manager has named Wayne Rooney as his captain. Interesting choice

 

... that Wayne Rooney is our Captain Fantastic... or Wayne Wooney as the England football manager calls him, which is a huge improvement decency wise on how he is often referred to in our house. Whether he’ll be able to inspire the national team to glory is debatable, all he usually manages to inspire in me is mild constipation.

 

... no-one can be bothered to name the girl animals at Pets Corner in Jesmond Dene... Big Bro Fred and I (check out that grammar, kids) were down there this week for a meet and greet and were rather taken with a massive rabbit called ‘Pops’. We also liked his hutch mates - a couple of black and white guinea pigs, but when Fred enquired as to what they were called, he was told: ‘We don’t name the girls.’ Can someone give me the number for Animalsty International?

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