Monday, July 24, 2006

Children 'too old for fun, too young to face future'

This article is lifted from today's edition of The Times.
(By Alexandra Frean, Social Affairs Correspondent.)


PARENTS who think their children are living in another world are right and the consequences are having a devastating effect on society, the Government’s unofficial “happiness tsar” has said.

Speaking to The Times as he prepares to launch the first independent inquiry into the state of childhood in Britain, Lord Layard, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, said that teenagers were becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of society and engaging in a culture in which adults were peripheral.

“It is as if they are living in a separate country from the rest of us. They do not emerge until some time in their early 20s, when they get a job and become dependent on other adults for approval,” he said.

"It’s not in children’s interests or our interests that they enter this separate world . . . Children and young people used to have a much more organic relationship with their parents and other mentors as they moved into employment.”

Many children, he said, did not appear to be enjoying childhood and society did not value childhood either. “We should be looking directly at the experience of childhood itself as a period of life to be enjoyed for its own sake. The fact that children are not enjoying their lives should be enough to make us very worried.”

Lord Layard was struck by a recent World Health Organisation survey of 150,000 teenagers in North America and Europe, which found that less than half of English adolescents saw each other as kind and helpful. The average was 60 per cent. Other evidence suggests that about 20 per cent of British children have mental health problems, while a Children’s Society poll found that nearly a quarter were scared of bullying, and more than one in ten worried about their parents’ lack of parenting skills. Lord Layard said that too many parents took their responsibilities too lightly and called for parenting to be taught in schools. “I think that children are not told the extraordinary responsibility of bringing a child into this world.”

He wanted to move away from the “sausage factory” of education, in which children are forced through exams and wanted to see more apprenticeships for unacademic children. “There is no natural progression into work other than via university. That leaves many young people with a sense of not being wanted at the end of childhood. To them, adulthood is not something to look forward to and that has a terrible impact on their childhood.”

  • Pocket money for 7 to 16-year-olds averages £8.20 a week compared with £1.13 in 1987, a rise of more than 600 per cent

  • Since 1996-97 more than half a million children have moved out of poverty

  • Infant mortality has declined in the past 25 years from 13.8 per 1,000 live births to 5.6 per cent

  • Diseases such as whooping cough and diphtheria have, in effect, been eradicated

  • Literacy has improved


  • More than 100,000 children do not have a permanent home
  • An estimated 20 per cent of children experience mental health problems
  • An estimated 920,000 children live in families in which at least one parent drinks to excess
  • About a third of white children and three quarters of Pakistani and Bangladeshi children in Britain live below the poverty line
  • A third of British girls rate their health as only fair or poor, with only their peers in Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia feeling worse off