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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Suffer the little children?
Here’s a scary statistic for you. The average young person in the USA today scores higher on anxiety than the average child psychiatric patient in the 1950s! This was one of the figures quoted by Dr Jean Twenge in a telephone lecture we recorded last night. It will shortly be edited into manageable chunks and put on the website so you can listen yourself. The rise of depression in young folk in the USA was also a big part of her talk.
While there are aspect of American culture which may have made these trends worse, in Britain we are seeing similar problems. Sunday’s edition of theTelegraph carried a letter signed by the neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield and others on how a combination of junk food, marketing, electronic entertainment and overly-competitive schooling are undermining children’s lives. They claim this is not only eradicating childhood as we understand it but retarding children’s physical and psychological development and affecting their mental health. The other 99 signatories of the letter are mainly psychologists or child health experts, like Dr Penelope Leach, or children’s writers like Philip Pullman. They argue that what children need is proper food, real play (which will stimulate their imagination and encourage physical activity), regular interaction with people, particularly parents, and a chance to participate in the real world. Greenfield is one of the UK’s leading experts on the brain and so her warning that young developing minds cannot cope with the rapid changes and developments of the modern world has to be heeded.
Greenfield et al urge policy-makers and parents to enter into a public debate on how we should be bringing up children in the 21st century. The Centre could not agree more with these sentiments. We believe that well-being should have a more prominent place in public policy and that children’s well-being has to be a number one priority, not just for policy makers but for all of us as parents and citizens.
Parents in particular have a huge part to play in the changes that are needed. Overly competitive parent syndrome is rife. Forget what schools and governments are doing to children by way of competitive tests and measurements. Many parents have far too much invested in their children’s success and failures. On the front page of the Sunday Telegraph which carried the story about Baroness Greenfield’s letter was a news report about how a mother is being investigated after allegations that she doped the ponies of rival competitors in the final of an under-16s gymkhana in Jersey. Few people would ever go to these lengths to see their children win but there’s little doubt children are under increasing pressure from parents to perform. No wonder anxiety is on the rise among our young people.
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