This is reposted from my blog Life is but a Labyrinth
We had undreds of them, cowboys, indians, soldiers, animals… boxes of them.
We ate a lot of Corn Flakes.
Rainy days were spent making the lounge into a western frontier or Battle of the Bulge with block forts and our imaginations (my younger brother and I). We had toy cannons that fired matchsticks, some had plastic shells and then we’d demolish the lot.
Sometimes we’d take them outside and make battle grounds in the piles of dirt as Dad landscaped the new property. Then we were free to use real explosives; you know the Tom Thumb crackers.
Kids today don’t know the thrill of blasting your toys to bits.
Notably these toys neither squeaked nor beeped and screens hadn’t been thought of; at this time, we didn’t even have TV, although it wasn’t far away, just a couple of years.
Today, kids have become slaves to technology. iPhones glued to ears, iPads everywhere, tablets in the classroom.
It’s a social disaster.
Gone are the days like this.
And the kids complain that they are bored.
It makes me incredibly sad, to think that kids of today don’t know how to play, don’t know the pain and joys of a bloodied knee, don’t know how to fall out of a tree and retain your dignity or escape with only a broken collarbone.
In stead parents lock their children up in sanitised houses, scrubbed with germ-free soaps, antiseptics, disinfectants and let them destroy their prospects of face-to-face communication.
Parents have delegated their responsibilities. Worse than the advent of television that became the square-eyed babysitter.
The problem with education?
The 10-year-old Londoners I took to Wales were proof that a week in the countryside is worth three months in a classroom
What is the best way to knacker a child’s education? Force him or her to spend too long in the classroom. An overview of research into outdoor education by King’s College London found that children who spend time learning in natural environments “perform better in reading, mathematics, science and social studies”. Exploring the natural world “makes other school subjects rich and relevant and gets apathetic students excited about learning”.
Fieldwork in the countryside, a British study finds, improves long-term memory. Dozens of papers report sharp improvements in attention when children are exposed to wildlife and the great outdoors. Teenage girls taken on a three-week canoeing trip in the United States remained, even 18 months later, more determined, more prepared to speak out and show leadership, and more inclined to challenge conventional notions of femininity.
Studies of the programmes run by The Wilderness Foundation UK, which takes troubled teenagers into the mountains, found that their self-control, self-awareness and behaviour all improved. Ofsted, the schools inspection service, reports that getting children out of the classroom raises “standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour.”
Last week I saw the evidence myself. With the adventure learning charity WideHorizons, I spent two days taking a group of 10-year-olds from a deprived borough in London rockpooling, and roaming the woods in mid-Wales. Many had never been to the countryside before and had never seen the sea.
I was nervous before I met them. I feared that our differences might set us apart. I thought they might be bored and indifferent. But my fears evaporated as soon as we reached the rockpools.
Within a few minutes, I had them picking up crabs and poking anenomes. When I showed that they could eat live prawns out of the net they were horrified, but curiosity and bravado conquered disgust, and one after another they tried them. Raw prawns are as sweet as grapes: some of the children were soon shovelling them into their mouths. I don’t think there was anyone in the group who managed not to fall into the water. But no one complained.
In the woods the next day we paddled in a stream, rolled down a hill, ate blackberries, tasted mushrooms, had helicopter races with sycamore keys, explored an ant’s nest, broke sticks and collected acorns. Most had never done any of these things before, but they needed no encouragement: the exhilaration with which they explored the living world seemed instinctive. I realised just how little contact they’d had when I discovered that none of them had seen a nettle or knew what happens if you touch it.
But what hit me hardest was this. One boy stood out: he had remarkable powers of observation and intuition. When I mentioned this to his teacher, her reply astonished me: “I must tell him. It’s not something he will have heard before.” When a child as bright and engaged as this is struggling at school, the problem lies not with the child but with the education system. We foster and reward a narrow set of skills.
The governments of this country accept the case for outdoor learning. In 2006 the Departments for Children and Schools, Culture, and the Environment signed a manifesto which says the following: “We strongly support the educational case for learning outside the classroom. If all young people were given these opportunities we believe it would make a significant contribution to raising achievement.” In 2011 the current government published a white paper proposing “action to get more children learning outdoors, removing barriers and increasing schools’ abilities to teach outdoors”.
So what happened? Massive cuts. The BBC reports that 95% of all outdoor education centres have had their entire local-authority funding cut. Instead of being encouraged to observe and explore and think and develop, children are being treated like geese in a foie gras farm. Confined to the classroom, stuffed with rules and facts, dragooned into endless tests: there could scarcely be a better formula for ensuring that they become bored and disaffected.
When children are demonised by the newspapers, they are often described as feral. But feral is what children should be: it means released from captivity or domestication. Those who live in crowded flats, surrounded by concrete, mown grass and other people’s property, cannot escape their captivity without breaking the law. Games and explorations that are seen as healthy in the countryside are criminalised in the cities. Children who have never visited the countryside – 50% in the UK, according to WideHorizons – live under constant restraint.
Why shouldn’t every child spend a week in the countryside every term? Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to develop the kind of skills the children I met were learning: rock climbing, gorge scrambling, caving, night walking, ropework and natural history? Getting wet and tired and filthy and cold, immersing yourself, metaphorically and literally, in the natural world: surely by these means you discover more about yourself and the world around you than you do during three months in a classroom. What kind of government would deprive children of this experience?
The pros and cons of ‘sharenting’
Are sharents – parents who blog, tweet and post pictures about all aspects of their children’s lives – doing their children harm by crossing the boundaries between public and private life?
They have been dubbed “sharents” – the mums and dads who blog, tweet and post pictures from their children’s lives – often simultaneously. If you’re not one yourself, you’ve probably come across one, perhaps even taken advantage of apps such as Unbaby.me, which helpfully replaces the endless feed of baby pictures with images of cats or, if you prefer, bacon. Because sharents have a tendency to get a little … carried away.
Mostly aged 35 and upwards, they were early adopters of social media who quickly became comfortable sharing their thoughts with strangers. Now, as they enter parenthood, it seems natural to take everyone along with them, every step of the way. On STFU, Parents, a blog that “mocks examples of parental overshare”, photographs of a child’s vomit (“This is what I had to clear up today!”) and a mother showing off her own placenta almost make one nostalgic for the days of annual round-robin newsletters.
But how will this parental sharing affect children as they grow up? That photo of your son playing the angel Gabriel might be cute when he’s four but will he be bullied about it a few years later? Do you want his mum’s account of him wetting the bed still out there when he becomes prime minister? “The problem with digital footprints,” says Tony Anscombe of the internet security firm AVG, “is that it’s difficult for an individual to control that information once it’s out there. When it comes to our children, we’re making the decision to put things out on their behalf, and what seems appropriate now may not be appropriate in ten years’ time.”
One can’t help wondering how the son of the American blogger Nerdy Apple will feel when he’s older and still haunted by his mother standing up for his decision to go to a party as Daphne from Scooby-Doo with a post titled “My son is gay”. Or how much time the son of Canadian blogger Buzz Bishop will spend on the psychiatrist’s couch in the wake of his dad telling the world that his older brother is his favourite child. The psychologist Aric Sigman agrees that we should be concerned: “Part of the way a child forms their identity involves having private information about themselves that remains private. That is being eroded by social media. I think the idea of not differentiating between public and private is a very dangerous one.”
The medium too is something of a problem. In person, it may be possible to explain to a grown-up child that their birth was a shock but was not something you regretted – reading a public post written at the time and detailing strong emotions is a rather different proposition. In 2009, Shellie Ross used Twitter to report the death of her young son just hours after the event, prompting as much criticism as sympathy online. “The written word doesn’t always lend itself to emotional nuance,” says Sigman. “A particularly personal episode may not come across in the way it was intended.”
Some parents have already started thinking more carefully about the online presence they have given their children. Anne Bruce grew uncomfortable about what she had posted when a number of work acquaintances befriended her on Facebook. “I was concerned that I could come across as mumsy and unprofessional and also began to worry about compromising the children’s safety – that photos could get into the wrong hands.” But she was reluctant to give up an effective way of sharing pictures with relatives abroad, so instead set the children up on their own accounts with just a small number of (generally related) “friends”. “It’s not strictly within the rules of Facebook because they’re only one and five and aren’t supposed to have accounts but as I see it, the accounts are just my pseudonyms.”
But opting out altogether is not that easy, as Natalie Lisbona, who lives in north London, knows. She is one of only two parents she knows who does not share information about their children online. “I wonder where these pictures will end up. I wonder what the information will be used for and how my girls will feel about me handing it over,” she says. But she caved in and put up a couple of photos a few months ago. “I suppose I just wanted to prove I’m a good mum,” she says. “I worry that by not mentioning my kids, people will think I’m not interested in them and don’t do things with them. I put up a photo of them and it got 30 ‘likes’ … I couldn’t help feeling proud. But I’m trying to avoid posting anything else. I think the girls will respect me for it when they’re older and still have their privacy.”
Others feel that the advantages of sharenting far outweigh any negatives. In an increasingly fragmented society, social media allows us to stay connected to friends and family, and get support that for many is not easily accessible. Blogging was a lifesaver for Sophie Walker when her daughter, Grace, now 11, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Feeling isolated, she started writing at courage-is.blogspot.co.uk “to make sense of what was happening to us, to give my daughter a voice and to find out if anyone else could offer advice or at least a sense of solidarity”.
It turned out there were hundreds of other parents in the same situation. Grace has been involved since the beginning and reads every entry her mother writes. “I don’t ever write anything she’s not comfortable with and I self-censor a lot of our experiences. But I wanted to tell people how fabulous she is and show her too in the process.” Dealing with a diagnosis such as autism can be very lonely, says Walker: “You get pushed out of the normal parenting groups and social situations. Blogging kept us in touch with people like us and gave us the support and confidence that helped us cope.”
Aimee Horton just wanted her blog Pass the gin to provide a realistic counterpoint to all the “perfect parents” she came across online. Keeping up with the Joneses today often means painting a picture of a family life more idyllic than the Waltons, all sun-dappled Instagram scenes and tweets about making cupcakes together. “Perhaps some people truly love all elements of motherhood but there’s a less represented group of us who love our children to bits but are very glad when they go to bed,” says Horton, who documents her struggles trying to get planking toddlers into car seats and dissuading her son from having the Spiderman logo shaved on to the back of his head.
She is breezy about online footprints – “inevitable” – and plans to keep blogging until “it doesn’t feel right any more. But I’d like to think it will stay there as a record when the boys are older. I’d never want to damage my children’s confidence, and if it made them feel uncomfortable then of course I’d take things down. But if it’s just a little bit embarrassing … well, they’re going to have to learn to laugh at themselves at some point.”
The desire to document our lives is nothing new. But where does the need to publish it stem from? Why is the approval of strangers so important? Horton believes it’s different for every sharent. “Some people do it for money, some people do it for support, to reach out – it’s therapy in some ways. Some are showing-off. But every person out there on social media is after recognition of some sort and anyone who claims otherwise is lying.
The world is changing. The internet was bound to do that because it keeps people away physically from family and friends that we need to be close to, so, use the internet to get close. It’s a vicious circle.
What goes round… comes around.
Children who have overprotective parents are more likely to be bullied by their peers, research suggests.
A review of 70 studies looking at 200,000 children suggests parents who “buffer” children from negative experiences make them more vulnerable.
But children who have harsh or negative parents are most likely to be bullied, it finds.
Prof Dieter Wolke said everyone looked at schools, but his study says bullying really starts at home.
The University of Warwick-based psychology professor said he was expecting to find that children with the harshest parents were most likely to become prey to bullies.
But he said he was somewhat surprised to discover that children with overprotective parents were also at an increased risk of bullying.
‘Deal with conflict’
He said: “Although parental involvement, support and high supervision decrease the chances of children being involved in bullying, for victims – overprotection increased this risk.
“Children need support but some parents try to buffer their children from all negative experiences. In the process, they prevent their children from learning ways of dealing with bullies and make them more vulnerable.”
He added: “It is as if children need to have some distress so that they know how to deal with conflict. If the parents all the time do it for them then the children don’t have any coping strategies and are more likely targets.”
Bullying was defined as repeated instances over a six-month period, rather than just one-off conflicts in the playground.
He said the research suggested bullies find dominance by targeting the children they find to be the most vulnerable – picking again on the ones who cry or run away after an initial attack.
So the way a child reacts to an initial instance of bullying has repercussions for what the bullies do next. Once they have established who to target they increase their dominance by repeatedly victimising them.
The research, which covered a number of European countries and the US, also found that children who were bullied by their siblings were more likely to be victims as well.
Prof Wolke said: “Parenting that includes clear rules about behaviour while being supportive and emotionally warm is most likely to prevent victimisation.
“These parents allow children to have some conflicts with peers to learn how to solve them rather than intervene at the smallest argument.”
Overall he found that 32% of children said they had been bullied over the previous six months. Some 10 to 14% went on to be chronic bullying victims.
The study was published in the journal of Child Abuse and Neglect.
You have to untie the apron-strings! I have said it before, and I’ll say it again.