Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun

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.

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Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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4 comments on “Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun
  1. Rory says:

    Welcome back.

    I remember childhood as being incredibly stressful – there’s always been something creating pressure on kids. I’d have thought that the 11-plus was a lot more worrying.

  2. Bob says:

    Just found the blog. Thanks for your link! I’m going to read your posts properly, and give you a link back!
    _b

  3. Tony's Bank says:

    I’d say the agreesive marketing at kids which specifically connects feelings of self-esteem with owning things, looking beautiful etc has something to do with it.

    At the same time, we’re (thankfully) well past the age of children “being seen but not heard” and they are now given more outlets with which to express their feelings. In short, any kid that complained of feeling “pressured” or “stressed” in the 30s, 50s etc would have been at the least told to shut up or given a whack. Ah, the “golden age” eh Mr Hitchens…

  4. ph says:

    Why on earth were you worried about Mrs T. I think you must have been brained washed by malignant adults.
    As a school child I was damned glad when she snatched my milk. it was always warm and slightly off by the time we got hold of it

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