I still haven’t had chance to read the full report SO I’m posting the summary document here:
The aggressive pursuit of personal success by adults is now the greatest threat to our children, a landmark report published by The Children’s Society reveals today.
The belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others is causing our young people a range of problems. They include: high family break-up, teenage unkindness, commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality.
This troubling picture is painted by the UK’s first independent national inquiry into childhood. The report, ”A Good Childhood. Searching for values in a competitive age,” commissioned by The Children’s Society, was carried out over three years by eleven leading experts. More than 30,000 children, adults and professionals contributed to The Good ChildhoodÂ® Inquiry which also undertook a comprehensive review of all the available research. The report, which presents evidence that children’s lives are getting more difficult, looked at seven aspects of childhood. Here is a selective summary of key findings:
Two things stand out compared to a century ago. Most women now work and their new economic independence contributes to levels of family break-up which are higher in the UK than any other Western European country. As a result of increased break-up one third of UK 16 year olds now live apart from their biological father. A child’s performance at secondary school, self esteem and wellbeing as an adult are linked especially to the father’s input. Children with separate, single or step parents are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school, have low self-esteem, be unpopular with other children, and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression ………
Parents are increasingly afraid to let children explore the outside world unsupervised and there are fewer places where children can play safely. Also, the age at which people have their first sexual experience has fallen dramatically. For women it dropped from 21 in 1953 to 16 in 1998. Teenage pregnancies are higher in the UK than anywhere in Western Europe, at 27 per 1,000 compared to only five in the Netherlands. This is the product of many forces including: more privacy when both parents work, commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation and a fundamental change of attitude toward pre-marital sex. Additionally, the number of 16 year-olds saying they have a best friend they can really trust has dropped.
Children now inhabit a quite new youth culture, more separate than ever from adults. With Â£3 billion a year to spend and watching 21 hours of television, video games and internet media a week children attract massive advertising. Some unprincipled advertisers explicitly exploit peer pressure. The more a child is exposed to TV and the internet the more materialistic she becomes, the worse she relates to her parents and the worse her mental health. The way firms are promoting sugary, salty high-fat foods to children is leading to rising levels of obesity. If current trends continue, by 2023 there will be a 54 per cent rise in Type II diabetes and by 2051 life expectancy will fall five years. It is not acceptable for young people to be exposed to advertising which produces demonstrable harm. The most dangerous aspect of media content is the lurch to more and more violence which we know from controlled studies can breed violence and increase mental illness. But the biggest problem is alcohol, with a quarter of 16-19 year olds now engaging in hazardous drinking.
The decline of religious and, more recently, secular belief in social obligation means there is less confidence in values such as generosity and fairness. Such values are more difficult to inculcate when parents and children are repeatedly told they need to possess more material goods and compete successfully against others. But the philosophy behind this excessive individualism is fundamentally flawed. Psychological research shows unselfish people become on average happier. We argue for a significant change of heart in society. Parents should teach the importance of key values and help children to develop spiritual qualities. Every school should embody the values being taught and teachers should live them through the week. Sex and relationships education should become a statutory, not voluntary, part of the curriculum and be presented not as biology but as part of social and emotional learning.
The Government should stop publishing school league tables because they can make schools regard low-achievers as a threat rather than pupils needing help. This is because league table scores are based on the percentage of children performing above some cut off such as five good GCSEs. To maximise its score the school has no reason to improve the scores of the 30 per cent of children below this threshold. Anything on apprenticeships?
A drive to train 1,000 more psychological therapists should be launched over the next five years to cope with rising numbers of children with mental health problems. Most of our children lead happy lives, but a minority are seriously troubled or disturbed. Yet only a quarter of those affected are getting any specialist help. One in ten 5-16 year olds now has clinically significant mental health difficulties ranging from anxiety, depression, over activity and inattentiveness (ADHD) and anorexia to conduct disorders such as uncontrollable or destructive behaviour. Relieving this suffering would probably pay for itself. A child with a conduct disorder costs the taxpayer Â£70,000 in crime, social care and remedial costs by the time they are 28 compared to Â£7,000 for a child with no such problems.
More money must be redistributed from the rich to the poor if the Government is to hit its target for reducing child poverty. It is often said that policies to equalise income do so at the cost of social mobility – preventing the poor from rising. Nothing could be further from the truth. Countries with high inequality and high child poverty, like Britain, also have low social mobility. In Britain 22 per cent of children are ‘relatively’ poor (defined as living below 60 per cent of the typical income) compared to 8 per cent in Sweden and 10 per cent in Denmark. Thirty years ago in Britain it was only 13 per cent. Lowering average income by redistributing wealth could empower many more youngsters to become more productive. Even if national income was lowered, this would not be a disaster.
Â· Make a long term commitment to each other.
Â· Be fully informed about what is involved before their child is born.
Â· Love their children, each other and establish boundaries for children. .
Â· Help children develop spiritual qualities.
Â· Help children to develop happy, likeable social personalities.
Â· Base discipline on mutual respect.
Â· Eliminate physical and psychological violence from school.
Â· Make Personal, Social and Health Education statutory.
Â· Present sex and relationships education not as biology but part of social and emotional learning.
Â· New SATS tests on emotional and behavioural well being should be carefully piloted.
Â· Introduce non religious, free civil birth ceremonies.
Â· Offer high quality parenting classes, psychological support and adolescent mental health services throughout the country.
Â· Train at least 1,000 more highly qualified psychological therapists over the next five years.
Â· Automatically assess the mental health of children entering local authority care or custody.
Â· Raise the pay and status of all people who work with children including teachers and child care workers.
Â· Give a salary supplement to teachers taking jobs in deprived areas.
Â· Replace all SATS tests with an annual assessment designed mainly to guide a child’s learning.
Â· Stop publishing data on individual schools from which league tables are constructed by the media.
Â· Start a major campaign to persuade employers to offer apprenticeships.
Â· Build a high quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people.
Â· Ban all building on sports fields and open spaces where children play.
Â· Ban firms from advertising to British children under 12.
Â· Ban adverts for alcohol or unhealthy food on television before 9 pm.
Â· Reduce the proportion of children in relative poverty from 22 per cent to under 10 per cent by 2015.
The media should:
Â· Rethink the amount of violence they put out, the unbalanced impression they give of the risks that children face from strangers and the exaggerated picture they portray of young people threatening our social stability.
Â· Stop encouraging premature sexualisation, heavy drinking and overeating.
Â· Take a more positive attitude to children. Welcome them into society and help them.