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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 30/09/2006

It is good to see that the 100 signatories to the letter about the dangers facing young people’s physical and mental health in modern times is causing a debate. In several papers now I’ve seen lots of letters and articles referring to it. However, one article caught my eye in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland this week and while it had a few interesting ideas I found the tone off-putting.

The article in question was written by Stuart Waiton director of Generation Youth Issues, a Scottish based organisation which was set up more than ten years ago ‘to campaign against the growing regulation of young people’. From the research that I was able to do on the web I feel sympathetic to what this organisation is about. I too think that there is something approaching a hysteria in modern society about paedophiles and child abuse and think all the vetting and checking the Government is requiring will continue to undermine voluntary organisations. It was certainly one of the reasons why I decided to pack in being involved in a youth club a few years ago. I also think that parents are not adequately sizing up the real dangers to their children. There is now more risk to children’s long term health from being prevented from walking or playing outdoors than there is from the dangers posed by paedophiles.

I also agree with the point that Waiton makes in his article that many in the ‘caring professions’ see childhood as a ‘state of vulnerability’. What he means by this is that they see every problem children may face – bullying from other kids, or unwanted behaviour from adults – as something which they must be protected from at all costs. This he claims is leading to restricted lives. And here I agree with him again and would like to add that it is also undermining resilience. We develop resilience through being able to cope with adverse circumstances. If we restrict children’s activities and experience and mollycoddle them too much then they will find it more difficult to acquire these important life skills. I spoke to an ex head teacher of a secondary school the other day and she said that a huge amount of her time was spent dealing with groups of girls and their arguments and falling outs. Sure, she accepted that some of this might amount to bullying behaviour but it wasn’t that different from what most girls have always had to deal with in the past – without bringing in parents or teachers to adjudicate.

But where I part company with Stuart Waiton is that in a style that is all too common these days he is out to polarise the argument. He believes that behind these child experts and commentators’ views is a ‘thinly-veiled snobbery’ about ‘junk people’: parents who allow their children to eat junk food, watch junk television etc. This charge surprises me. Much of what the 100 signatories focused on are trends which are widespread in society at large and not restricted to specific social groups. Perhaps these experts had in their minds’ eye, poor kids fed on a diet of processed foods but if you read the letter you get the impression they are concerned about so-called well-off kids who hardly see their successful parents and are subjected at a very young age to a very competitive education.

Even more dispiriting than the unwarranted charge of class bias, Stuart Waiton completely glosses over the complexity of the argument and is out to attribute blame. He concludes: "To challenge the restricted lives that children have today, we need to confront not ‘junk parents’, but the junk professionals who are the carriers of today’s panic."

As the original letter-writers conclude: "This is a complex socio-cultural problem to which there is no simple solution, but a sensible first step would be to encourage parents and policy-makers to start talking about ways of improving children’s well-being."

What’s certain, is that name calling isn’t going to get us very far.

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