Children in England are feeling increasingly miserable, according to a recent survey. A third of young people said they were not happy with life, and one in 20 pupils at secondary schools admitted to having been drunk “two or three times” in the past month.

Should this surprise us? Not really. An increasing number of young people have to endure the misery of parental divorce, or the break-up of unmarried relationship. Many have to cope with the complications of what is coyly called a “merged family” with step-brothers and step-sisters in what may turn out to be yet another temporary arrangement. They are expected to manage the relationships involved in having step-grandparents and an assortment of step-uncles and aunts, some of whom may also be in various sorts of relationships with partners.

Since school discipline is acknowledged to be a problem – evident in a rising number of incidents of attacks on teachers, routine necessary searches for knives, a massive problem of swearing and rowdiness in classrooms – it is scarcely surprising that for many children an ordinary school day presents much that will induce fear and unhappiness. The consumer-culture also produces an array of nasty habits: envy, greed, the nonsense of the “must-have” jeans or trainers, the sneering or bullying involved when a child is deemed to be dressed unfashionably. Obesity presents a further problem: children who instead of family meals are presented with endless opportunities to grab snacks and given money for fast-food to be eaten on the way home from school, and/or in front of the TV at home.

A new book also notes that lack of structure and discipline in children’s lives induces misery. The Spoilt Generation: why restoring authority will make our children and society happier by Aric Sigman points out that children desperately need authority figures, boundaries and discipline and order, parents who are in control. It is cruel to deny children these things, which are essential to mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

If one single cause of misery could be brought out as heading a list, it would be the denial of a child’s right to a father. Cruel policies in divorce courts block fathers from seeing their children: a mother is deemed to have the right to force her children to live with her and her new boyfriend while a father becomes a marginal figure whose visits can be blocked or made extremely difficult by moving to a distant place.

Divorce can also bring other effects: conscious that their children are likely to be unhappy when a home breaks up, parents tend to try to compensate by soft-pedalling on discipline, allowing bad behaviour which really requires correction.

There are other ways of inducing heartache in children, too: over-indulgence and giving them a sense of entitlement to instant gratification makes them angry with themselves and with others, discontented, unable to manage small everyday challenges. Failure to punish bad behaviour means that they are confused and life seems to lack structure and purpose.

And the fashionable emphasis on “genderless parenting” mean that a simple truth has been ignored: children need both mothers and fathers, who relate to them in different ways. A family should not have to be politically-correct, and nor should its means of communication or discipline have to follow fashion. Families need to have a confidence in being what they are, and parents should be allowed and encouraged to make use of their best instincts and their common sense.

None of this seems to have reached Ggovernment circles of thought. Do politicians and bureaucrats live on a different planet from the rest of us? Britain’s “Children’s Minister” announced, in response to the recent survey, that the new system of “happiness” classes at school and compulsory “personal, social, health and economic education” would resolve the problems, along with promotion of healthy eating habits.

It makes one despair. A child needs a secure home, and the knowledge that there is a moral code and a meaning to life. You cannot teach “happiness” in a classroom, and it is bizarre that a government is attempting to do so. Structure and discipline should form a framework in which a child can flourish, a sort of secure flower-pot in which the young plant thrives before it is put out into the larger flower-bed to bloom in the garden.

The angry, frightening young men and women who shriek and vomit and lurch about drunkenly in the streets of Britain’s towns and suburbs on summer nights are evidence that we are getting something terribly wrong. It is very weird when a nation is afraid of its own young.

It is possible to change, and to start making the right decisions and restoring wisdom and truth to the task of child-rearing. If we don’t, the future looks bleak.

Joanna Bogle writes from London.

Job: journalist and author, so somewhat cynical about the Internet which threatens the culture of writing on which my living is based. Husband Jamie and I live cheerily among lots of books and no TV in...