As professionals and academics from a range of backgrounds, we are deeply concerned at the escalating incidence of childhood depression and children’s behavioural and developmental conditions. We believe this is largely due to a lack of understanding, on the part of both politicians and the general public, of the realities and subtleties of child development.The signatories conclude,
Since children’s brains are still developing, they cannot adjust – as full-grown adults can – to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change. They still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed “junk”), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.
They also need time. In a fast-moving hyper-competitive culture, today’s children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum. They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini-adults and exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past.
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. We therefore propose as a matter of urgency that public debate be initiated on child-rearing in the 21st century this issue should be central to public policy-making in coming decades.And here is the Telegraph's follow-up article on the letter it received, where, among other things, you can read the following:
The letter was circulated by Sue Palmer, a former head teacher and author of Toxic Childhood, and Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at the Research Centre for Therapeutic Education at Roehampton University.Among the saddest comments came from laureate Wilson, who notes,
Mrs Palmer said: "I have been thinking about this for a long time and I just decided something had to be done.
"It is like this giant elephant in all our living rooms, the fact that children's development is being drastically affected by the kind of world they are brought up in."
She cited research by Prof Michael Shayer at King's College, London, which showed that 11-year-olds measured in cognitive tests were "on average between two and three years behind where they were 15 years ago".
"I think that is shocking. We must make a public statement – a child's physical and psychological growth cannot be accelerated.
"It changes in biological time, not at electrical speed. Childhood is not a race."
"We are not valuing childhood. I speak to children at book signings and they ask me how I go through the process of writing and I say, 'Oh you know, it's just like when you play imaginary games and you simply write it all down'.High time for a similar debate on the other side of the pond, too.
"All I get is blank faces. I don't think children use their imaginations any more."