Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Parental Fears and The Good Childhood Inquiry

The Children's Society, a British charity focused on providing assistance to "those forgotten children who face the greatest danger, discrimination or disadvantage in their daily lives"--including kids in trouble with the law or on the streets, disabled children and young refugees--have released the first of six reports detailing the findings of a large survey they are conducting into the lives and well-being of UK children. Entitled The Good Childhood Inquiry, their study will explore six major themes that link back directly to children's quality of life (or "good childhood"): friends, family, learning, lifestyle, health and values. The first report, focusing on "friends", had some interesting things to say about the changing spaces and roles of peers and play in contemporary childhood. Released on the heels of their June 5th announcement about teens and best friends (fewer have them today than 20 years ago), this new report paints a grim picture of over-protective parents and tightening restrictions on children's interactions with friends as well as public space.

For example, approximately 43% of adult respondents said children should not be allowed out with friends until they were 14. Despite the fact that friends and socializing topped kids' lists of what made them the happiest, they also felt that they never had enough time to play (or "hang out") with their peers. Cited in the BBC's coverage of the report, The Children's Society's chief executive, Bob Reitmeier, had this to say:
"Children have told us loud and clear that friendship matters and yet this is an area in which we appear to be failing them. As a society we are in a real quandary. On the one hand we want freedom for our children, but on the other we are becoming increasingly frightened to let them out."

He added: "If we go too far down the road of being over-protective and not allowing children to explore, to play, to be up with their peers, but also with children of other ages, then we may be influencing the way in which they look at society and social interaction later on."

This theme came up again and again in the report itself, which describes kids' own thoughts on the subject:
Children need spaces in which they can pursue their own agendas, stated one submission. In another, it was believed that the demonisation of young people and antisocial behaviour policies deprive children of opportunities to socialise and make them more isolated as they retreat into ‘virtual worlds’.

Read more coverage of the report by anastasia on Totally Wired, by Dr Helene Guldberg on spiked, or on the BBC.

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