Is childhood really ‘in crisis’?

I have just read a press release published today on the Open University website linked from twitter. It is entitled Paranoid parents, media hysteria and the myth of ‘childhood in crisis’ and it refers to research conducted by Dr Mary-Jane Kehily, an expert in childhood and youth at The Open University itself. Her paper is entitled ‘Childhood in crisis? Tracing the contours of ‘crisis’ and its impact upon contemporary parenting practices’, and her work has taken some six years to complete.

I am certainly not expert enough to argue with Dr Kehily’s research methods, and she seems to have been very thorough, but she argues that actually any ‘crisis’ is a media construct, and that parents are becoming increasingly paranoid and fearful of their every move being watched and judged.

Now, unless the press release issued by the OU about their own research has misrepresented the work, the quote I take most issue with is “The burgeoning availability of parenting advice through magazines, books and television programmes has given rise to a moral panic. The assumption is that childhood is not what it used to be and that this, in itself, signals catastrophe.” The OU have clearly expected a significant debate – you can go to their Platform site to put your views direct.

Now I am quite new to the world of mummyblogging but I don’t necessarily see the ‘romantic visions of childhood’ which when apparently linked to consumerism and new scientific procedures have changed the relationship between parent and child so profoundly in recent years. My children are now teenagers, but I see the same concerns I had 15 years ago voiced over and over again by mums and dads in their blogs, on twitter and facebook. This ‘change’ must have been going on  a lot longer than Dr Kehily suggests.

Aren’t most parents worried about what the future holds for their children? Haven’t parents, in general, always wanted the very best for their offspring? Haven’t parents always felt terrified of their children falling ill, or becoming the victim of violent attack? To say otherwise surely suggests that our parents and their parents before them somehow cared less for their sons and daughters or sought to actively to restrict their horizons? Surely for the research to say ”In what is now a risk-conscious society, the child is a treasured emotional investment, providing security for parents in an insecure world.” is actually also referring back hundreds of years when child mortality was such that women had more children than their bodies were designed to carry just to ensure the family had sufficient wage earners to put bread on the table?

OK, if the argument is that now we place more importance on equality of opportunity – male/female, affluent/disadvantaged etc – now and that the social environment within which our children live has changed I would agree wholeheartedly. That has increased the challenges for all parents. It is also true to say that the tabloid press so love a horror story that they fill us with fear of predatory strangers when research shows that a child has more to fear within the four walls of their own home than out there is the wide world. But are we really in ‘crisis’? Doesn’t Dr Kehily’s theory feed the concerns she is identifying, and if we are all ‘paranoid’ is she not making it worse?

Since my (admittedly brief) involvement with mummyblogging, and tapping into the support networks that are now out there I cannot agree that the ready availability of advice – instant in many cases over social media is making parents more paranoid, and plunging our child’s lives into ‘crisis’. The joy of knowing that there are so many women and men out there with the same worries, the same feelings of inadequacy and the same responses as ourselves seems to offer a collective sigh of relief. I certainly wish this had been available in my day (did I really say that?!!)

I hope this has not come across as too much of a rant. Academic research has a place in informing all of us about the society we live in, but this seemed so judgmental, so anti all forms of media that I had to write something.

It would be really good to have some views on this. Am I wrong? I am quite happy to have my perspective challenged. Do you feel anymore paranoid than your forbears? Or are your crises more intense than someone like me, who has got their children to something approaching adulthood unscathed? Are we facing ‘catastrophe’?

Photo credit scazon

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4 Responses to Is childhood really ‘in crisis’?

  1. Lucy says:

    I have a friend who was telling me the other day that she won’t let her 9 year old go to the bakers because “she might get bundled into a van”. She said this in front of said child. I was baffled. The same child came to our house a few months ago and was wearing a padded bra and a g-string. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I know it’s A Bit Odd.

    • keatsbabe says:

      For a while Evie wouldn’t even walk the dog in broad daylight for fear of being grabbed and I had never even mentioned a risk. I am sure news channels don’t realise kids soak the stories up as much as the parents..

  2. Just found this two years later via networked blogs. Glad to see it might actually woek as a promotiinql tool… maybe… =) Good article by you, Suzie. Sorry I missed it the first time. And I agree that my own concerns are not much different than 20 years ago, except that now college is no longer something to plan for, it’s here. The crisis might have been created years before, not by concerned blogging parents, but by research studies talked about in parenting magazines. 1 week the report says that the baby should be Laid to sleep on his belly. the next report says that playing child on his belly is one of the causes of SIDS so he should be laid on his back. Yet another study claims the child should be laid on his side in the crib? The best advice I got when my son was born 22 years ago was to ignore everything in the parenting magazines. Use love and common sense. So I guess what I’m asking is isn’t it people like Dr Kehiley who get their reports promoted in the press who create the myth of crisis she is attemting to debunk? Except for the corporate blogs which are there primarily for profit, the blogging world is just a modern way of friends sharing practical advice with friends. It’s been good for parenting if anything.it sounds like researchers themselves are a little bit in fear of the new technological age and how it might leave them out of the process.

  3. Pardon the typos.nTrying to donthis on my tablet.

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