Childhood is always hard - we just face new perils

Craig Dearden Philips finds reason for optimism in the Good Childhood report

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

Last week saw the release of the report A Good Childhood by the Children's Society. Its conclusions are, as so often seems to be the case with these big studies, totally depressing: children are more anxious, depressed and stressed than ever, and that is due, in the main, to the corrupting influence of a hypercompetitive, self-seeking and materialistic society.

As a parent of two children under three, I confess to mixed feelings about this report. Part of me believes that childhood today is actually a lot better than it was in my day. Like many over-40s, I went to a school where kids were regularly 'slippered' (in the case of my school, we were hit with a trainer), bullying was rife and the concept of 'child self-esteem' had not entered the vocabulary, never mind an Ofsted report.

Do I fear for my two kids? Yes I do - but only a bit. Being fat or ugly has never been fun, but I am sure it is worse today than it was back then. Cyber-bullying is probably more psychically corrosive than having your head flushed down the toilet by Norman 'Gripper' Stebson, perhaps the best known of the long list of Grange Hill bullies. And an iPhone is far more intimidating than a pair of Farah trousers as a status symbol.

However, I also marvel at how many of today's parents and schools, armed with the facts, now place emotional wellbeing at the heart of everything they do. Schools are better, much more nurturing places. Young people now have a voice where they had none before. Mechanisms for dealing with bullying and abuse at least now exist.

My point here is that childhood has always been tough. Each generation has its own grisly challenges. My own parents grew up in post-war austerity and didn't see bananas until they reached their teens. Their parents were raised in absolute poverty and, in one case, neglect. I grew up in a time of relative prosperity, but getting your head kicked in or being touched up by a teacher was a real, everyday fear.

I therefore choose to view this excellent report not as reflecting some historic nadir - a new depth in a crisis - but as a portrait of the particular perils of childhood in the 21st century. And as a platform from which we can, as we always do, build a better future for our children.

Craig Dearden-Phillips is founder and chief executive of Speaking Up. He writes in a personal capacity

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