Sometimes I wonder whether, despite all the reports on “broken Britain”, it is really so much worse, in terms of child and family wellbeing, than any other developed country. A recent UN report accused British parents of trapping children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism” by showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending quality time with them.
However, a large group of British experts have sent a letter to the London Telegraph agreeing that things have been bad for children for some time but that nothing is being done about it. The letter follows a similar one, on “toxic childhood”, in 2006 and says:
“Although parents are now deeply concerned about this issue, the erosion of childhood in the UK has continued apace since 2006. Our children are subjected to increasing commercial pressures, they begin formal education far earlier than the European norm, and they spend ever-more time indoors with screen-based technology, rather than in active outdoor activity and play.
“The time has come to move from awareness to action.”
In fact there has been some action — more reports and the former Labour government’s Children’s Plan — a policy document covering all aspects of young people’s lives. Evidently, government policy is not enough, and the experts are calling for a public information campaign highlighting children’s developmental needs, the requirement to promote high quality child care and the dangers of a “consumerist, screen-based lifestyle”.
Some British mothers say that “high quality childcare” for very young children is a contradiction in terms, and that the officially encouraged trend for their mothers to go out to work is part of the problem. There is also the possibility that parents need parenting education rather than just “information”.
Publication of the letter coincides with the publication of a book, Too Much, Too Soon?, featuring 23 essays on early learning and the erosion of childhood.
One study by Sally Goddard Blythe, the director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester, concluded that up to half of children were not ready for school at the age of five because of “sedentary lifestyles”. They struggled to grip pencils properly, sit still, stand up straight and even catch a ball after failing to develop physical and communication skills at a young age.
Mrs Goddard Blythe said: “If I go back 23 years to when I first started to work in this field, the majority of people we saw were those for whom there was a primary underlying cause for their difficulties, such as mild cerebral palsy.
The situation sounds pretty urgent, all right.