The recent report published by the Child Poverty Action group sadly comes as no surprise following on the heels of the UNICEF and Good Childhood Enquiry reports. While these reports rightly highlight failings in Britain,they do not seem to be able to effect positive change.
As long as successive governments continue to pursue policies which view children from the perspective of the selfish adult rather than the biological and developmental needs of the child, I fear that the state of childhood for many (not all) in this country will continue to be a dismal one.
Child well being begins before conception with the health and social stability of both parents. Events in pregnancy, the manner of birth, feeding choices, opportunity for free physical play and conversation in the first 2 years of life all have a significant influence on a child’s social and emotional development.
Physical interaction with the environment and social engagement with parents on a daily basis are as important to a child’s social development as nutrition is for physical growth and well being, but increasingly in the UK we live in society where stressed parents struggle to hold family finances together and “virtual” relationships replace real relationships for several hours of the day. Little wonder that children feel socially and emotionally isolated and are increasingly inept at reading social cues.
Research suggests that regular and prolonged exposure to electronic media affects children’s brain waves, attention, ability to separate fantasy from reality and even levels of neurotransmitters – chemical substances through which the nervous system communicates – as well as affecting the quality of real relationships. While the electronic media can entertain and provide a basic medium of communication, it lacks all nuances of non-verbal language. Up to 90% of effective communication is based on non-verbal signals.
While child protection seems to be woefully inadequate at one extreme, at the other, a culture which prevents teachers from having sufficient powers to discipline children effectively, makes heroes of celebrities rather than those who have contributed to society through service and which discourages healthy competition in the pursuit of difficult goals, also does children a disservice. Children need secure boundaries to feel safe; they need to learn through experience that bad behaviour has negative consequences if they are to have the motivation to change. This is just one way in which the weak and timid in society can feel safe and the strong and adventurous learn how to temper and regulate their behaviour. Children need examples of extraordinary achievement and service in order to believe that maybe, one day they can achieve the same, and contribute something useful to society.
The needs of children and adults are not the same. Children need stable adults to lead them into the world and they need a society that welcomes them and takes them up into their culture and which teaches by example.
Parents are essential ingredients in this process and if we want to start effecting change in the experience of childhood in this country, we can begin by valuing the role of parenting above material well being.
Whether we like it or not, a happy childhood begins with parents and ends as members of the state, not the other way round.