September 18, 2006

OPINIONS: So, you want them to be happy?

So, you want them to be happy?

Libby Brooks unpicks the current panic about childhood, and explores how adults can support children's own efforts to cope with the real challenges of modern life

Saturday September 16, 2006
The Guardian

Childhood has always been a disputed territory, its true geography quickly forgotten as we grow older, replaced by an adult-imagined universe. But there appears to be a growing consensus that childhood today is in a peculiarly parlous state. In a letter to the Daily Telegraph this week, a powerful collection of experts including Philip Pullman, Susan Greenfield and Penelope Leach argued that the fast-moving, hyper-competitive nature of our society is seriously damaging children's mental and emotional wellbeing. They suggested that junk food, computer games and constant testing in schools were directly responsible for the well-documented escalation in childhood depression.

So is childhood genuinely in such crisis? Is the modern world inimical to happy and healthy development? Certainly, children growing up today are subject to increasing containment and surveillance, and the tyranny of consumer and moral choice. The definition of maturity itself is in flux as the traditional adult milestones of courtship, marriage and procreation recede, and our popular culture reaches back to youth in order to sustain itself.

And yet our panic about childhood betrays a deep ambivalence, too. Our children are in danger, fattened on fast food, corrupted by commerce, traumatised by testing. And at the same time, other children are dangerous, malevolent beneath hooded tops, chaotic in the classroom, bestial in the bedroom. Before we can have the public debate on child-rearing that the letter writers call for, we need to unpick which of our anxieties truly reflect the reality of the situation.

Take the electronic media, one of the corrupting influences cited. Media-related child panics have a rich history. Plato proposed to ban the works of the dramatic poets from his Republic for fear that they might lead students astray. And it's worth remembering that the imaginative life of children is full of violence, as anyone who's spent any time in a playground could tell you.

FULL ARTICLE AT,,1873604,00.html

Chris Schuepp
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