Childhood now ends for many youngsters by the age of 12, according to parents.
A survey reveals that many parents believe their sons and daughters grow up faster and are under greater pressure than previous generations.
About seven in ten (71.2 per cent) said their child stopped being “childlike” by 12, while around a third (35.6 per cent) said their youngster’s childhood lasted only until they were ten, the Netmums poll, which questioned 1,032 parents, found .
Two-thirds (65.7 per cent) said today’s children were under much more pressure, and grew up far faster, with just 2.5 per cent saying they thought it was harder when they were growing up.
The poll suggests that childhood is under threat as a result of outside factors, such as the internet, celebrity culture and images of thin or overtly sexy celebrities, magazines aimed at “tweens” but containing content more suitable for older teenagers, and the easy availability of suggestive images and online pornography.
Almost three-quarters of parents (74.1 per cent) cited peer pressure as one of the main factors making children grow up quickly.
Parents were also asked for the main pressures on “tweenage” boys and girls – those aged between seven and 13.
Six in 10 (59.9 per cent) said one of the main pressures on boys was to be macho before they were ready, followed by the pressure to think about their appearance (chosen by 51.4 per cent) and the pressure to be good at everything, from schoolwork to sports (48.9 per cent).
The top three pressures on girls, according to parents, are to think about their appearance (65 per cent), to be extremely popular (51.1 per cent) and to be thin (44.5 per cent).
Just over a quarter of parents (28.3 per cent) thought that being interested in boys, kissing and sex was one of the main pressures on girls, with a similar proportion (28 per cent) saying that having girlfriends and being interested in sex was one of the main pressures on boys.
Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard said “It’s shocking our study shows childhood ends by 12 years old. Children need time to grow and emotionally mature in order to cope with what life throws at them.”
The poll also reveals parents’ concerns about fashion for today’s “tweens”.
Almost half (46.6 per cent) said they hated the fixation with brand names, while more than half (53.6 per cent) said some of the clothes could be too sexual.
More than two-fifths (43.8 per cent) said some styles encouraged children to grow up too fast, with 46.1 per cent saying it could be tough to find clothes for children, as many made them look like “mini teenagers”.
Ms Freegard said: “The pace of modern life is so fast that it is even snatching away the precious years of childhood. A toxic combination of marketing, media and peer pressure means children no longer want to be seen as children, even when, as parents, we know they still are.”
She added: “There needs to be a radical rethink in society to revalue childhood and protect it as a precious time – not time to put pressure on children to grow up far too fast.”