Saturday, 13 July 2019

Goodbye to innocence

Are children today having a more fraught and difficult childhood than the children of previous decades? Is childhood innocence becoming a thing of the past, with today's children exposed earlier and earlier to adult realities?

Yes, says the charity Action For Children. They spoke to 5,000 children, parents and grandchildren and found a wide consensus that modern childhoods were getting worse amid increasing social pressures.

Youngsters were under pressure to achieve at school, fit in with their peers and cope with wider anxieties such as Brexit, poverty and the climate crisis.

Two-thirds of parents and grandparents felt childhood was getting worse, and a third of children agreed. All said bullying - both online and offline - was the main problem, followed by pressure to fit in socially, now more intense because of social media.

A very sad state of affairs. My own childhood seems like unalloyed bliss compared to what children face today.

Yes, I had a bad-tempered father and I was bullied at school, but now that all seems quite trivial when set beside present-day anxieties.

I glided through my school years with little awareness of the outside world and its problems. I wasn't too worried about passing exams, as I wasn't planning to go to university. I went on wonderful family holidays. I felt very little pressure to fit in with anyone else. At home we all enjoyed the popular radio sitcoms and comedy shows of the time. I spent hours whizzing round the neighbourhood on my scooter. I played in the street with no fear of child-molesters or knife-carriers or drug-dealers.

I truly was in a sealed childhood bubble that was seldom disturbed by the grim reality of things like the Suez Crisis, the cold war or nuclear threats, or by mental health issues like eating disorders, self-harm or body loathing. My cosy little world of pleasure and novelty was rarely punctured.

Childhood today seems more like a battleground.


  1. I think my childhood ended at the age of 11. It was pretty good until I went to the Comprehensive - then I grew up pretty quick.
    I'm pleased I grew up without social media - I reckon it must be tough with that sort of pressure.

  2. Talk to the women you know Nick, you will find a far different reality that you had. I was molested by a "trusted" male when I was 6 yo. I was bullied for wearing glasses to correct an eye defect when I was 7. I could go on and on. But won't.

    Kids today are more aware in so many ways and in many cases more in communication with parents who believe them. They have amazing support networks through texting and being unafraid to hug each other when the world seems not to care.

    No I'm not a Pollyanna but in the olden days no stats were maintained like they are today/

    And yes at 13 I was terrified of a Nuclear Armageddon.


  3. I honestly don't think I can tell whether my childhood was better then than it would be now. I wouldn't have liked social media but it seems to me that kids adjust to what they know.

  4. I don't know. Anyone who was molested as a kid can tell you not everyone got an innocent childhood. I sure didn't. And we did bomb drills when I lived on a naval base, just incase a nuke got sent our way. As if ducking and covering would help at all. And if you read any history, before our time life could be a pure unadulterated hell for children. Still is in many parts of the world.

  5. www: Yes, I guess childhood is very different for girls, who get pestered and harassed from an early age. I hadn't thought about supportive networks, I guess that's a plus point about social media. I'd like to know how my sister saw her childhood but I've never talked to her about it - she's very reticent about anything personal.

  6. Ms Scarlet: I'm sure the bullying of my childhood was trivial compared with the concerted and relentless social media bullying that goes on today.

  7. Jenny: I think that's often true that kids adjust to what they know. So I might think they're worse off but they just think, well, that's the way it is.

    Agent: True, if you were molested that could blight your whole childhood. And yes, childhood was dreadful in the days of widespread child labour and exploitation. Which is still the case in many parts of the world, as you say.

  8. What ages are you talking about? We were aware of the Cold War and the threat of having nuclear bombs dropped on our heads --- I still remember one vivid public service announcement that terrified me. I'm sure life is different for kids now, and access to the internet can be a blessing or a curse. I was hungry for knowledge and think it would have been a blessing for me.

  9. Children of alcoholics didn't have a good childhood, either. Nor did neglected children; those who were never hugged or told they were loved. Not did those whose parents expected perfection at all times. Yes, many of us were free to roam our neighborhoods but...

  10. Jean: You were obviously a lot more aware of the outside than I was in my little cocoon. I think I only caught on to the nuclear threat and the CND marches some time in the sixties. I was a late developer!

    Linda: I'm not saying everyone had a wonderful childhood back in the good old days. I'm only talking about my own childhood compared to what the research uncovered. Of course other people have had very different experiences, including the children of alcoholics as you suggest.

  11. It occurs to me now that they should have done research on boys and girls separately, as they must have quite differing experiences. Girls get preyed on and demeaned in a way that boys usually aren't.

  12. I think every generation faces something. Drugs seemed to be the big worry back in my childhood. Now, it's porn and online predators. Previous generations dealt with incurable diseases and starvation. Some still do.

  13. I think children today have a more difficult world to deal with, and I do not know an answer.

  14. Bijoux: I don't remember any big worries from my childhood. My parents always had money worries and had a mortgage to pay for, but I was barely aware of that. They didn't talk to me about it.

    Joanne: There are no easy answers. Things like drug addiction, bullying and eating disorders are complicated and no doubt will still be major problems in decades to come.

  15. a great thought provoking post Nick.
    I think I loved my childhood. I say think because I had nothing to compare it to then. we moved so much. it became an adventure somehow.
    Michael and I talk about it now as adults looking back upon it. I think it made us unable to form close relationships. you appear to be normal but you're not!
    it's why I became a voracious reader! my childhood memories are of camping with my family and bike riding (safer back then as you say) and a blessed naivete.
    I felt safe. I doubt if children feel safe today.
    and that's what is so sad everywhere.

  16. Tammy: Exactly, in our younger days we felt quite safe wherever we were and whatever we were doing. Now there are so many people targeting children for their own devious ends, children are often kept indoors, unable to run around the streets as we did.

  17. Innocent childhood ? Are you kidding. Ask children in poor countries where eating is a daily problem. Ask children in war conflicts , go and ask refugees children who crossed the sea in a nutshell or walked hindred and hundred miles to cross a border and now are not welcomed in Europe. Just nothing to do with most of the children in Western countries , we have a lot of poor children here too but nothing compare to children who work already at the age of 3 or 4 to try to survive. So I just do not understand what you call the innocence of childhood.

  18. Chloe: Well of course there are millions of children across the world whose childhood is far from innocent, who suffer in all sorts of ways from the day they're born. But I wasn't talking about them, I was comparing childhood as seen in the research with my own childhood. And of course even the present-day anxieties the research uncovered are trivial compared with childhood in countries like India, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Syria, the Yemen etc etc. I'm well aware of that and I know how lucky I am to have been brought up in England.

  19. Yes, I felt safe. We roamed widely and did many things that were not actually safe but we still felt safe enough to risk doing those things.

  20. Linda: True. I wasn't really conscious of risk, I ran around the streets feeling perfectly safe. And in those days the neighbours would look out for you and help you if you got into any trouble. That's not so likely now.

  21. I wasn't preyed on in any way and I don't want to minimise the experience of those who were but please don't draw a gender line under that. Sexually abused men and boys suffer terribly.
    As a child I was unhappy in some ways. Not because of predation or bullying or the cold war but because I couldn't find my niche socially and as an extrovert, that was a bit miserable. (I also had lots of lovely experiences so I'm not complaining)
    Anyways, my Liam was five when he delivered the news of 9/11 to me. My kids knew about awful realities from a young age but they also played in the street, were healthy, ate well, were given all the autonomy I could safely allow (a lot more than most) and had someone who believed deeply in them.
    I know someone who protects their children from everything and most of it is imagined and the kids are scared & anxious.
    In my opinion, kids experience of childhood is less influenced by their generation than by the base provided by their home life.

  22. Kylie: Very interesting and thoughtful comment. You might be right about gender and generation not necessarily being a factor. It's very difficult if you can't find your niche. I'm an introvert, but I never found my niche as a child either. It sounds like your kids had all the freedoms that kids here are often denied because of the imaginary fears you mention. Teaching kids to be scared and anxious for no good reason is unforgivable.

    1. People don't intend to teach their kids to be scared, they think they are protecting them. I prefer not to protect but to provide a safe zone they can use... Or to help them believe they are capable of withstanding some hardships. Of course, some horrors don't merit my aporoach

  23. Kylie: So what exactly is the difference between protecting and providing a safe zone? Aren't they two sides of the same coin?

  24. My observation is that children today have less time to play outdoor games and socialise than we did. I also find that increasingly, they get hooked on to hand held gadgets and use them instead of books, indoor games like chess etc that we used to spend our time.

  25. Ramana: The gadgets can be very useful - keeping in touch with friends, picking up information, keeping up with the news, booking flights etc. But they've also encouraged hatred and abuse, encouraged people to take sides rather than finding common ground, and encouraged all sorts of harmful obsessions. A bit of a two-edged sword.

    Jenny and I are currently having a chess tournament - it's great fun!