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22. Whatever happened to childhood?

With a rise in bullying, family break-up and consumer pressure, has a paradise now turned into a battleground - quite literally? Free Thinking brings together a panel of writers, historians, youth professionals and younger voices for challenging perspectives on modern childhood..

With Dr Sami Timimi, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Trust;
David O'Brien, headmaster of St Teresa's Catholic Primary School in Norris Green, Liverpool;
Tim Gill, former director of the Play Council and author of "No Fear: growing up in a risk-averse society";
Pat Nelson, Liverpool-based youth and community worker, and Kate Clanchy, journalist and writer.


Free Thinking 07 Event Poll 22

Is modern childhood too short?

  1. Yes
    17 votes
  2. No
    6 votes
  3. Don't know
    1 votes

Total votes: 24

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Your thoughts

J Horner, London
anybody interested in the importance of 'play' in childhood should read what is a child? by nicholas tucker. it discusses cultural differences in childhood. as a recent graduate i do understand the importance of adult responsibilities in life but i don't agree that childhood should be completely 'phased out' by 18 or even 16. the concept of simple, innocent play and interaction is being slowly diminished in our society by materialism and technology which i believe will have a profound effect on peoples' general happiness and well being. without adults who have a childlike sense of fun and imagination i think this society could be a very dull and depressing place.

patrick, falmouth
Childhood is a bit of a modern myth. If a child is lucky enough to escape the monoliths of School (ie forced institutionalisation/child-minding/control/forced 'learning'), TV (a drug which we push on our children from the earliest age - a true killer of all instinct and natural curiosity), Peer Pressure (the only garbage available to fill the gaping hole left by the realisation that your family decided that your life must be 'sacrificed' to the School and the TV), and, finally, Family Breakdown, the most widespread & unacknowledged form of child-abuse. If you can escape these, and I mean escape, with the help of a loving family, you can possibly have a 'childhood'. All 'learning' and all desires are not really our own, they are copied (mimesis) - if we all knew the true consequences of that we would never torture a child with compulsory Schooling, TV, Peer Pressure or Family Breakdown. Read Rene Girard, and de-register your child from the state apparatus (they are your child after all) and start to get to know them again, and give them freedom and guidance to re-kindle the natural innate curiosity and fascination they have for the world. By 'the world' I mean the real one, not the TV one, the Peer Pressure one, the School one, or the Family Breakdown one - believe me, such a world still exists, and we do a great disservice to this generation by pretending that 'what was good enough for me in my day is good enough for my child'.

crazee D S.E london
Ere's me tuppence worth. kids think all adults are knobs. and as such think drug taking and drinking and anti social behaviours are cool. good is their bad and vice versa . i think love means tough love as well as true love. and parenting doesn't always involve throwing money at kids. coz you haven't the time means spending time on them as you would have liked.i still haven't got the solutions to these ills or u could read my books. maybe they just dont see solutions themselves other than the pecking order they get involved in. all kids deserve a childhood maybe they don't want one? may be they dont want to inherit this crazy world either. love ya ! crazee D

Judith, South Wales
I can't understand where all the children have gone! As they are no longer seen playing unsupervised or just "mooching" in the neighbourhood, the question begs as to precisely how these children can integrate and socialise within their communities given their lack of exposure to it. One assumes that they are either safely contained in front of a screen at home all day, or playing in their (confined) gardens on their (safety netted) trampolines. How dull! Whatever happened to climbing trees, scrimping apples and getting a clip round the ear? Modern children seem to have lost the real fun and freedom of childhood, which is sad news both for them and for society. Unable to accept and take risks and to assimilate into society earlier on in life, they seem unable to behave according to the norms of society and increasingly take instead to guns, drink, drugs and violence.

MJ, St Andrews
I think that childhood is too short in a sense. As kids are drinking, smoking, taking drugs, and are sexually active from a very young age. I find it frightening. I am only 20, and I worry about children, what they are doing, and where society is going. I was a "child" not terribly long ago, and I certainly did not know of such activities amongst my peers. As for testing at a young age, it should not be required, children need to learn at their own pace, with out tests looming over them, it will be done enough later in their lives. So in that sense, yes, childhood is too short. However one can also argue that its too long. At university I see a lot of very immature people. I know we are all still learning how to behave as human beings at 18, but surely they should have had some idea by now. The way they behave is not adult like, they can be very irresponsible and inconsiderate. The seriousness of why they are here, doesn't seem to bother them, the impact they have on the public also does not bother them. They should have been taught from a young age what is socially acceptable and what is not. A balance should be met, where childhood is gradually phased out, and the idea of work and grown up situations and adult behavior is phased in. Ideally by the age of 18,or perhaps even 16, you should have phased out childhood altogether, and be quite well into being an adult.

Scott, Warrington
Whilst childhood can be too short it more often NOT the case. Our society does not force children into the constraints of work until they are fully mature (ish), generally children can enjoy a fairly unrestrained lifestyle where they can continue to play and develop well into their 20's. Gone (thankfully) are the days when children led a blinkered and sheltered life until puberty and then pushed out of the door practically overnight into work or marriage !!

Malcolm Southampton
Testing at five? Education in England has gone literally gone to the madhouse. for children are suffering depression due to primary school pressures. In a civilised country school for the 5 -8 year olds is for the steady integration of a child from parental care into the schoolroom processes. The vast majority of childrens brains are not receptive to learning until this latter age.

William Cope, London
This is very interesting. Too short probably implies that if kids are doing spice girls gyrations and sats at the age of 7 then childhood is over by then. Up to a point lord copper i think.Isn't it time that we allowed ourselves to get out of the view that childhood has to be the way the parents' childhood was? Perhaps the kids doing the dances in the schoolyard are doing just that, dancing. Are hip gyrations any less sexual than the may pole? possibly not. I'm tempted to say that as a parent i have to learn to let my child experience a childhood that is theirs, not force them into the one i think i had.

A festival of ideas in Liverpool 9-11Nov 07, on radio and online.

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