Are the kids all right?

Sunday 21 October, 6.30pm until 7.30pm, Frobisher 4-6

Today’s representation of childhood often seems overly negative: children are seen to be suffering from a litany of ills and problems. At the start of 2012, newspaper headlines proclaimed ‘Unhappy childhoods afflict one in 10 youngsters’, following the publication of a survey by the Children’s Society. Britain’s ‘happiness guru’, Lord Layard, declared: ‘Everybody involved in shaping children’s lives should sit up and take note of this report.’ Elaine Hindal, director of the society’s Campaign for Childhood, said: ‘We know that, right now, half a million children are unhappy’, and ‘unless we act now’ we risk creating ‘a lost future generation’. But are things really so bad for today’s kids? Surely many of the changes we have seen over recent decades are also a cause for celebration? For a start, children are healthier and wealthier than ever before. As the influential 2007 UNICEF report on child wellbeing in rich countries noted: ‘By almost any available measure, the great majority of children born into today’s developed societies enjoy unprecedented levels of health and safety.’

And yet might it be naive to paint an overly rosy picture of contemporary changes, some of which are the unintended consequence of attempts to improve children’s lives, from killjoy health-and-safety mania to questionable self-esteem initiatives? It might be going too far to suggest today’s children are threatened by a new-found ‘nature deficit disorder’, as some claim, but it is true that ‘cotton-wool kids’ are denied many of the freedoms and experiences that past generations took for granted. And if anti-bullying initiatives dominate schools, might we not expect today’s children to be less resilient, more victim-like? If, as is alleged, youth are reared on a diet of immediate gratification and entitlement (with some commentators seeing such trends as at least one factor in last summer’s UK riots), can we assume there will be no fallout? How has childhood changed in recent decades? Which changes are for the better and which for the worse? Could there be unique benefits as well as downsides to being a child today as opposed to in the past? Is it possible to delineate what are the key ingredients of a good childhood?

Paul Flatters
social researcher; chief executive, Trajectory; former chief executive, Future Foundation

Kevin Rooney
politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

Harriet Sergeant
research fellow, Centre For Policy Studies; author Among the Hoods: my years with a teenage gang

Dr Helene Guldberg
director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood: freedom and play in an age of fear and Just Another Ape?

Produced by
Dr Helene Guldberg director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood: freedom and play in an age of fear and Just Another Ape?
Recommended readings
The Good Childhood Report 2012

A review of our children's well-being

The Children's Society, 2012

The National Trust’s imagination deficit

The conservation charity is right to celebrate outdoor play, but the idea of ‘nature-deficit disorder’ is nonsense.

Helene Guldberg, spiked, 19 April 2012

Ignore these pedlars of panic – the kids are all right

Report after report tells us that children are sad, lost and in need of expert intervention. Real-world evidence suggests otherwise.

Helene Guldberg, spiked, 16 January 2012

Viewpoint: Children have never had it so good

Ignore these pedlars of panic – the kids are all right

Paul Flatters, BBC News, 4 January 2012

An overview of child well-being in rich countries

A comprehensive assessment of the lives and well-being of children and adolescents in the economically advanced nations.

UNICEF, 2007

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