“A Primary Cause for Concern”.
This was a front page headline ( dated 12th October 07) by The Independent Newspaper, which highlighted a study-the first of its kind in 40 yrs, on the emotional well being of British primary school children. The conclusions reached were an alarming read.
We are rearing a nation of depressed, anxious, badly behaved children, obsessed by celebrity cult status and fed on consumerism, materialism with social and family breakdown aggravating this behaviour.
The report paints a bleak picture of what is viewed as a “lost childhood” as children are having to grow up too fast. These findings were based on more than 750 interviews with parents, teachers, heads of schools and children themselves.
I am a parent who is about to enter the terror and turbulence of riding alongside a soon-to-be teenage daughter. Lucky for me I have a husband totally committed to coming along on the ride also. As parents we have tried very hard-some would say too hard, at raising our daughter. As a young child she was not wired up to the TV all day. We have encouraged conversation, books, going out, play, having friends round, activities;as well as fully taking part in school life and helping with homework. We have largely done this alone and it has not been easy.
Yet typically, now my own child has been labelled, anxious, depressed and displays many of the characteristics of the children described in this report. The play dough and the painting has been replaced with the ipod, Nintendo, computer, TV(hours of it) and sitting indoors working through vast amouts of homework washed down by the American cult series Friends. She is unfit, (the bike stays in the shed) where once she used to ride, and the Gymnastics has been replaced with celebrity, magazines, make up and wanting to walk in high heels, I have to say no to with protests. Her aims are high, “I want to work in fashion, Journalism” she tells me “and earn a lot of money”.
I am constantly saying that in order to achieve these things she has to become a team player, communicate with people and have realistic goals and have commitment and stamina. Don’t get me wrong I am proud of my daughter in many ways and all who visit us thinks she is a smashing, polite, well behaved kid with caring, good parents. The point I am making here is we can see the danger signs in many ways, yet feel we are on a roller coaster, powerless to stop some of the negative influences in her life.
Some of you would agree that the gadgets had to be bought by us and indeed most of them were. It is hard though not to be swept up by the latest “must-have” thing and of the feeling of the child wanting to be like the others. Her own low mood and anxious state were caused by bullying at her past primary school which took some time to get over, with our support and that of her new school. The subject of bullying is a separate national scandal which I won’t go into on this blog.
One of the behaviours I do notice when other friends call is how little they can amuse and play by themselves. We do not have a bountiful supply of money. After a few minutes the children often ask for entertainment. Going on a picnic for example is so un-cool. I’m amazed when young guests ask for jaunts to theme parks, skating and trips to fairs, seaside etc. They are not shy at coming fore-ward. It’s amazing!
So you would say, if we are rearing a nation of depressed kids unable to play, take no exercise and possibly fed on junk food then we as parents must be to blame?
I think the majority of parents fall into our category of having to counter a much wider social sickness and the negatives in our society which help shape children the way they now are. While we do have many responsibilities in shaping our child’s character by our own behaviour I don’t think the poor parents or the teachers should get it totally in the neck for getting it ‘so wrong’.
Here are my own views on what I think may be happening.
- Children are being sent to school far too early. This I believe is very much government led, so parents can get back to work as soon as the kid is out of nappies, because the treasury is hungry for our money so it can spend it on warfare in Irag as one example. (In Scandinavia children go to school at 6- have much more emphasise on play and by nine are out performing British children.)
- The pressure of SATS in school, a narrow curiculum where pupils are taught to pass tests because of government performance targets.
- Parents see technology as a easy babysitter- see the recent BT advert, as the children are entertained by eletrical appliances .
- Parents struggle alone to bring up children because granny lives away; and even if granny was there she now has her own life and income and childcare is not on her list of priorities.
- Gagets and gismos are taking over and children are loosing the ability to think up ways of entertaining themselves.
- Parents in order to pay ever higher mortgages and seek ever higher aspirations are increasingly stressed and exhausted. The culture here now is if you don’t earn a bucket full and be somebody then you are a loser.
- Gang culture and crime which has increased steadily, causing our youngsters to not feel as safe.
- The ever bombardment of fame shows, Celebrity icons. Children want to be both talented and famous. I cringe when I watch The X-factor, at the desperation and disappointment when youngsters voices just don’t match up to what is required.
- A risk- averse society and the public hysteria of children not being allowed out to play for fear of the stranger around the corner, when in actual fact children are more at risk from themselves and each other in the school play ground.
Many of these issues can be found in a very excellent book called “Toxic Childhood” by Sue Palmer, Orion books 2006, which discusses some of these problems in more depth.
For me this report highlights a much wider social malaise which the present government has to take responsibility for. I personally am glad that the election has been called off. It gives this country a chance to look with fresh eyes at the last 10 yrs of Labour rule;a nanny state,dictating to people who are overworked and in more debt than just a financial one.