# In Good Company Teddy K Speech Homework

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## The teddy bears (and pushy parents) sparking class wars in our schools

**What should be an innocent activity has become a social divide****Teddy's diaries show some parents giving bear a taste of the high life****Internet forums are filled with mothers driven to the brink by the class bear****Parents snap into a competitive, aggressive ‘survival mode'**

By Thea Jourdan for MailOnline

Published: 22:42 GMT, 14 May 2014 | Updated: 23:35 GMT, 14 May 2014

My seven-year-old daughter Imogen couldn’t have been more delighted when it was her turn to take Spencer Bear home for the weekend.

Eyes shining, she hugged the cuddly toy that doubled as her class mascot, handing me a large cloth bag stuffed with spare clothes for him and a diary where we were supposed to record his experiences.

She’d been looking forward to playing host to Spencer Bear for weeks and already had a whole range of activities lined up for him, from tree-climbing to chicken-feeding and bouncing together on the trampoline.

Imogen couldn't wait for a weekend of fun-filled activities to share with Spencer bear

A dab hand with my smartphone, Imogen was snapping pictures of herself and Spencer before we even got in the front door.

It couldn’t have been a more innocent extra-curricular activity. But, as I was soon to discover, even this simple game had been sullied by the most toxic trait of modern parenting: elbow-sharp competitiveness.

Most mums will be able to tell you that Spencer — or another close cuddly relation — is now the undisputed king of classrooms across the country.

Used as educational tools by primary schools to encourage pupils’ writing and story-telling skills, toys such as Spencer go home with a different child every week, along with a diary for their hosts to fill in.

It seems like a perfectly harmless idea, and it probably was when it originated in the U.S. a decade ago.

But just one peek in Spencer’s diary revealed what he had got up to on his previous away-days — and simple picnics it was not. This was a toy who had been given a taste of the high life.

A teddy with a taste for the high life: a school bear enjoys itself in Greece

It was clear that some of my fellow school-gate mums had whipped themselves into a frenzy trying to match the picture-perfect lives of their bear’s previous hosts.

There was Spencer taking riding lessons, dining out in fancy restaurants and indulging his taste for Premier League football from the touchline. Was that a helicopter I saw parked behind him? What a charming hat to keep the sun off his face in Barbados!

And the other mums’ homes were almost uniformly spotless, their children immaculate, whereas I hadn’t had time to have my hair done, let alone have the house redecorated.

Further investigation revealed the same story across Britain: teddies were being treated to sun loungers and sports cars by parents everywhere from Cheshire to Cornwall.

Then came the most high-flying weekend I could dream up at such short notice: a jaunt to a National Trust stately home for high tea, followed by the sailing club to show Spencer how to set a spinnaker

Even a quick flick through my friends’ Facebook pages brought up countless pictures of different mascots from schools around the country enjoying a lifestyle that would rival that of the Beckhams.

Teddies were climbing Machu Picchu, sunning themselves aboard luxury yachts and availing themselves of exotic canapes in every far-flung corner of the world.

How could our Spencer Bear ever live up to the standard set so high? Still, I was determined to try.

A new photoshoot got underway. Imogen had her face scrubbed and her hair scraped back into a tidy bun before we posed her with Spencer at her ballet lesson.

Forget the playroom, strewn with Lego. That week she did her homework, with Spencer by her side, in the freshly polished drawing room. Then came the most high-flying weekend I could dream up at such short notice: a jaunt to a National Trust stately home for high tea, followed by the sailing club to show Spencer how to set a spinnaker.

Come Monday morning, and a last-minute panic, it was bye-bye to Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in an Ikea bowl and hello to porridge, fresh fruit and Wedgwood tableware.

I’ve rarely felt so stressed, and I’m not alone: internet forums are filled with mothers driven to the brink by the visit of their class bear.

Reaching new heights: Teddy takes a a trip to Mount Everest

One teacher tells how competitive parents at her school became, despite the instructions being to draw pictures or write a sentence about doing a simple task such as posting a letter or going to the park.

‘We had ticket stubs from rugby internationals, postcards, photos and trips to all sorts of places.’

Another mother confesses: ‘We ensure the photos are angled so the kitchen looks good and you can’t see the missing unit or messy worktops.’

Emma Citron, a consultant clinical psychologist and a specialist in child and adolescent development, thinks that the poor job market has also made parents snap into a more competitive, aggressive ‘survival mode’. She says: ‘They are worried that their children aren’t going to succeed, so there is a mad scramble to buy them popularity and status.

I’ve rarely felt so stressed, and I’m not alone: internet forums are filled with mothers driven to the brink by the visit of their class bear

‘The bear is seen as a useful way to show where you are in the social pecking order and get a foothold for your child up the ladder.’

Samantha Turnbull, 52, a teaching assistant at a state primary school in Wokingham near Reading, says that her school bear is just as likely to go on a cruise as share a TV dinner.

But with a mix of pupils from affluent middle-class families and others on benefits, the bear serves only to emphasize the difference.

‘It’s sad to look through the bear’s diary and see lots of blank pages from some families, alongside glossy pictures of the teddy having a whale of a time with children who have a lot of material possessions,’ she says.

And if the teachers are noticing the social divide, you know the children are, too. Indeed, evidence gathered by the Times Educational Supplement suggests that some schools are now phasing out the bears to avoid putting a strain on parents.

Nadine Field, a consultant psychologist based in Buckinghamshire who specialises in family life, says that competitive parenting has always existed, but has changed from emphasising academic prowess — the kid with a genius IQ — to wealth and status.

‘Competitive parenting is now more about material possessions — “My car is bigger than yours.” The answer is to reassure children that they are special and unique. There will always be people who are richer than you, but a loving family is the most important thing, not electric gates.’

Yet Sara White, 44, a primary school teacher in Central London, thinks a total ban would be a shame.

‘In my experience, kids love the bear and identify with it,’ she says.

‘As well as being a useful educational tool, it really helps teachers gain a window into their home life, which can be very revealing.

‘It may be clear that the child’s learning development is not supported, and we can offer extra help at school. Or that a child’s mum is doing their homework for them. That is really obvious, too.’

Well-traveled: A teddy on a trip to Hawaii shows how far parents are willing to go to beat each other in the battle of the bear

But some parents have already started a backlash against the one-upmanship.

One teacher told the Times Educational Supplement that her class bear had been returned on Monday with a photo and a caption reading: ‘The bear wandered aimlessly around B&Q, looking at taps.’

‘The bear is seen as a useful way to show where you are in the social pecking order and get a foothold for your child up the ladder.’

Emma Citron

Another parent revealed that the bear had ‘enjoyed the afternoon spinning around the washing machine to clean off the ingrained dirt it had accumulated during the school year’.

And, to my horror, I discovered that my own husband, worn out from my efforts to posh up our lifestyle, had punctured my carefully crafted image of domestic bliss.

After I had dropped the bear back at school, he told me that he had stuck in some pictures I hadn’t authorised. Spencer was down the pub having a pint and a curry, before indulging in a fry-up beside a digital clock which revealed it was 3am.

I was furious. What would the other oh-so perfect mums think when they saw Spencer with a pint of bitter between his chunky paws?

So I’m already planning next year’s teddy bear outing. With a little preparation, and some cleverly Photoshopped pictures of exotic locations, Spencer’s next visit to the Jourdan household will beat all those other yummy mummies hands down.

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