Would you want to be a child in this day and age? An alarming study from the Primary Review published today paints a grim picture of modern British childhood, where the spectres of school tests, global warming and international terrorism loom large. Today’s children are “anxious”, “stressed” and overwhelmed with modern life, consumerism and materialism.
Well, maybe they are. But is childhood more stressful now than at any other time? I’m not so sure. I remember being worried about things myself as a youngster: nuclear war, the IRA, mass unemployment, the AIDS epidemic, the Eleven Plus, Thatcher. What about children in the 50s, who had to contend with rationing, corporal punishment and the prospect of National Service? Ten years before that, young children were being evacuated out of the cities, moving away from their families to live with complete strangers and escape the Nazi bombs. Now that, I suggest, would have been stressful.
The truth is that, despite our natural predisposition for nostalgia, childhood hasn’t been idyllic for any generation. This is actually a point made by Professor Robin Alexander, the lead author of the report:
Although there is a strong vein of concern that childhood used to be better; it’s important not to indulge in nostalgia for childhood, it has always been under stress in one way or the other and poverty was much more prevalent in the 1950s. Every generation has its nightmares and problems to contend with.
It’s so easy to look back and think things were simpler/nicer/easier when you were young. But they probably weren’t. The world has always been a dangerous, noisy and anxiety-inducing place. That’s what makes it so interesting. I doubt children of today are particularly more stressed than in any other time, it’s just that previous eras did not have an industry dedicated to constantly canvassing people’s viewpoints on everything.