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 and The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow. 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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Programming our children for ill health
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I’m glad to see that the UNICEF report on child well-being has attracted so much attention. It is shocking that the UK should come bottom of the list of 21 developed nations. Of course, some of this is about the appalling numbers of children who are poor and who are being brought up in deprived homes but it is much more of an indictment of the UK’s culture, values and attitudes to young people. Some of this is about the break-down of family life and the impact the long hours culture is having on the country’s children. Many young people in the UK reported they did not see or talk to their parents very much or sit down to eat with them. Regularly I hear stories about 14 and 15 year olds left at home on their own for a few days while their mother, or father, goes off on holiday.
The weekend papers carried information about a recently published report on children’s tv watching which provides further evidence of the way that children in the UK are impoverished – not materially but in terms of relationships. By the time the average child is six they will have spent one year of that watching tv. More than half of three-year-old have their own set! Apparently the UK population as a whole watches more tv and reads less than any other nation in Europe.
The report compiled by a psychologist called Aric Sigman says that there are 15 well-documented negative effects on children from watching tv – these range from impeding brain development, hormonal disorders, obesity, sleep difficulties, skin immune cells and much more. Dr Sigman recommends that no child under three should be allowed to watch any television.
This research only looks at children’s psychological and physical health and doesn’t consider how sitting in front of tv may impede young children’s language skills. Some children these days are going to school without the necessary language to fit into the classroom. This is one of the reasons why ‘nurture units’ have now been established in some primary schools in Glasgow. Nor is the report looking at the suitability of the programmes – whether they include violence or sex, for example. A researcher at Leeds estimates that only 18% of children’s tv viewing is in their designated slots.
I’m not saying that tv watching is the only reason why young people in the UK have poorer well-being than their European counterparts but it is certainly part of the picture.