Materialism, ambition and hate on the Net

BRITISH children will be envying the Japanese in the run-up to Christmas: our Prime Minister told City folk at the Lord Mayor's banquet that the economy is doing fine; in Tokyo the government is taking bizarre steps to kick-start theirs.

Under-16s and over-64s will get about Pounds 100 in shopping vouchers which will coincide with toshi dama - New Year's gift season. Japanese consumer groups complain that this largesse will foster unhealthy materialism among young people while toy and video game-makers are rubbing their hands with glee.

The voice of Lara Croft, star of the Tomb Raider computer games, a female Indiana Jones highly popular with teenage boys, was revealed to be a 36-year-old ballet teacher from Ilkeston, Derbyshire. "People don't believe me when I say I'm her," said Judith Gibbins, whose 11-year-old son is still mastering the game. "'Go back to the beginning and try again' has become my party piece."

Computer games, the Internet and the Walkman came under fire from the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, who accused the devices of ruining family life as they were solitary pastimes.

Potentially subversive too: an American organisation, the Anti-Defamation League, has put a "hate-filter" on the market as a tool for parents to block children's access to a continually updated list of websites run by racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazis and religious white supremacists.

The millennium generation, let's hope, won't be taken in by any of them. From a survey by the right-wing Adam Smith Institute, it seems the majority of those reaching 21 around the turn of the century will be too busy making money. Forty per cent want to be millionaires when they're 35.

Although they are self-confident, ambitious and prepared to take risks, they also want to be home-owners and lead a family life. Doctors, policemen and teachers earn their highest admiration while journalists are least respected.

Suitably chastened this column turns to Charlotte Church, 12,who has not only signed a five-album deal with Sony but has also reached Number One in the classical charts and Number 24 in the pop charts with her collection of light classics, Voice of an Angel.

The Welsh prodigy would, we hope, not be amused by the bad language on a so-called comedy show, All Classical Music Explained on Radio 4. A recent sketch on "offensive short arias" included a number of obscene words. Rhiannon Whitaker, of Bangor, said her eight and 13-year-olds were more bored by bad scripts than swearing. But it was, she said, a sad day for the BBC when dumbing down the 6.30pm slot got so noticeable that her youngest said: "Can I turn it off, mum?" Quite.

A far cry from the innocent world of Winnie the Pooh. Councillors in Hartfield, East Sussex, are considering ways of raising the water level at the stream under the bridge where he played Pooh Sticks. You can't make a video game of that, can you?

Diane Spencer

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