My friends with kids tell me this is nearly the halfway point in the summer holidays. When I say “tell” what I really mean is they expressed a view punctuated with expletives. They’ve run out of fun things to entertain them with, especially free options, and are slowly contemplating the return to school and all the costs associated with that.
I remember childhood summers fondly. I suspect most people do. Rose-tinted glasses delete all the rainy days and we remember only the long summer nights playing and exploring, crawling home when dusk hit, knackered and ready for a deep and easy sleep.
A leading children’s charity this week reported their fears of a childhood crisis looming. Action for Children report that it’s just harder these days to be young and free and happy. They point to all sorts of additional pressures on young people, most of which have always existed in some form but are now compounded by the digital era, endless screen time and rolling exposure to news.
Take bullying for example. An issue that has existed since the dawn of time. Classic playground bullying still exists of course, but so too does internet-based bullying which teachers and parents can’t monitor in the same way with playground patrol. Apparently Facebook is for old people too. At least, what we think Facebook is for – showing off holiday pics and nice meals with friends. How very retro. At least then, bullying that was done in the comments sections could be seen and monitored publicly.
But that’s old hat now. Today’s youthful users of social media don’t put up pictures of burgers – they’re in private, dare I say it secret group chats that parents just can’t see. The damage that can be done in this time without an adult eye on it is serious, subversive and deeply damaging to their mental health.
Limit screen time and chuck them outside you say? There’s no such thing as bad weather or bad clothing? Well to do what exactly, and is it safe? Cuts to public services which have fallen hard on local authorities have seen countless youth work projects disappear, public spaces aren’t maintained in the same way and without decent public subsidy many children are priced out of formal activities. Especially if there’s more than one child. Worse still if it’s two or more thanks to the Tories’ two-child cap. There are just fewer spaces for children to decompress and let go of all these stresses and strains.
Anxiety is a huge factor too. When I was young, blessed with a pretty idyllic childhood, the biggest worry I had was choosing between strawberry millions and cola cubes with my last 20 pence. Now kids are coming home from school asking if the planet’s dying and worried about the prospect of war with China. My news consumption aged ten was provided by BBC Newsround. Sanitised is probably too strong a word but it was definitely age appropriate. Explaining the context to every story before returning to Ed the Duck for a few cheap laughs. Children now are exposed 24/7 news cycles. Bad news is everywhere.
I’m not suggesting we return to an era of pushing bikes up hills while sucking Werther’s Original. It’s important that children are aware of the world, all its problems and possibilities.
Yet if they are going to grow up feeling fear and anxiety all the time – we could definitely provide more fun for free with serious investment in the sports clubs and dance classes, arts and music opportunities that allow imagination to run as wild as the bad news.