According to the pop-psychologist-pseudo-science writer Malcolm Gladwell in his magnum lite-opus, the Tipping Point we as a species need risk takers. Individuals who are willing to put it all on the line in pursuit of a goal will, if they […]
A while ago, the Inquisition pondered the nature of intelligence, and whether a certain outlook or attendant mental abilities are guides to or from happiness. This has been obliquely in the news of late…
Its odd. Most graveyards in Connemara appear to be near water, if not actually right on the coast. Why? West Galway, or Connemara, has a lot of unused space. Admittedly, much of the land Connemara is industrially and agriculturally useless, […]
A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland
Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.
The preface to HLA Hart’s publication of his 1961 lecture series on the meeting of law and morality is as prevalent today as it ever was.
There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.
False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.
55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.
Marriage is thought by many to be a fixed rite, one which is immovable and inflexible. The truth is that it has not always seemed so…
The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.
The modern Irish government was born from promises. Promises that were never kept. One of the most shameful of these that went by the wayside was the protection of childrens’ rights. Now is not the time to discuss how they were systematically ignored. We have, in the meantime, let our country grow and develop in a manner that leaves much of it inaccessible to young inquiring minds.
Today, perhaps more than ever, we cherish the fragile innocence of childhood; it is sacrosanct. Our attitude toward our precious preparation for adulthood has changed drastically over time as education and industry have put labour off till later in life, in the richer parts of the world at least. In human history, childhood, as a protected time, is a relatively recent luxury and perhaps we are being over-bearing in our defense of this stage.
In medieval Europe for example, childhood was brief. In many ways it was regarded to be almost a precursor to a fuller life, when very young children were not quite regarded as full members of a household. This was probably as much due to the high infant mortality as anything else – childhood was a time of frailty, and something to leave behind as soon as possible. Children were certainly looked after with great care but they would nonetheless be pressed into service at a very early age; a state of affairs which continued until the twentieth century. Neil Postman argues, in a highly reactionary manner, in “The Disappearance of Childhood” that there was no real differentiation between the various stages of life, as those who would now be recognised as children were expected to be much more aware of the harsh realities of life. This Postman says is where we are headed again. Joan Nelson further questions where these boundaries arose in “Intergenerational Sexual Contact: A Continuum Model of Participants and Experiences”, which raises some frankly sickening scenarios.
The Industrial Revolution brought the promised of prolonging childhood through increasing leisure time, but did not permeate all levels of society quickly. In fact, the industrial age made new jobs available just for those lucky little children. They were particularly well suited to jobs like scuttling around under powered looms (spinning jennys) keeping it all in check and often getting squashed. Dickens wrote about a very different take on the use of child labour in a very haunting sequence where Bill Sikes uses Oliver Twist as a cat burglar assistant. Sadly even today child labour is used globally. Ostensibly for the dexterity that comes with small hands, but also for the economics – children cannot organise into a labour force with wage and working conditions demands.
In wealthy western society, childhood has been firmly established as an aspect of life to be defended and protected at all costs. All parents want their children to be free, to learn for themselves through challenges and by using this freedom. And yet while governments still fail to protect the rights of children, individual adults unthinkingly project their own fears and insecurities onto these children, thereby stripping them further of their would-be liberties.
It is a measure of today’s outlook that children are allowed to climb on strong frames in secure playgrounds with rubber ground beneath the structure. It used to be trees.
Douglas Belfield, director at playground designer Record RSS, notes that this may affect our children developmentally, “Incorporating risk is an important aspect of growing up. We develop from learning by our mistakes and pushing our boundaries and this has to start in childhood.”
This, it would seem, is worse for girls. Experimentally it has been shown girls are restricted to a greater extent by worrying mothers, who unintentionally limit their abilities. There is a test that involved bringing in mothers and young children to climb on an adjustable incline (click here for the pdf of the report). The mothers were asked to judge how steep to set it before their child would start to slide back down. While the mothers of sons were generally more correct, intriguingly the mothers of daughters uniformly set the angle far lower than was necessary. This has been interpreted as a learned response that girls are physically weaker, even though this weakness is not necessarily evident at such an early age.
The most damning indictment of our mistrust of our offsprings’ savviness however, must be the shrinking environment and space for exploring which we allow them. 20 years ago the Inquisition had the run of the world – nooks, crannies, parks and woods were to be explored. Kids are not allowed this freedom to roam today, as is attested to by survey after survey. Again the figures are astounding. A child in 1926 could have disappeared all days to 6 miles to the nearest fishing hole, where today’s child cannot leave his own road.
This echoes Europe’s transition from predominantly rural to urban. This has brought with it the attendant dangers of conurbation, industrial machinery and motorised transport. Society’s move towards the urban has widely resulted in the loss of communal familiarity. This is a double-edged sword. Traditionally parents have felt more at ease, when they know all the local people who their kids will meet when out and about. However, it is in this nest of familiarity where paedophiles hide and 90% of child abuse occurs.
Again the numbers are frightening – globally a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds with 4 children dying every day as a result. 75% of these 3 years old or less. These figures however are not equally distributed across race and wealth, showing that our social fabric is thinner in some parts. Asian and African societies are not nearly as highly represented as more affluent westerners. Obviously we, as a society, are doing something wrong, but stopping our children from exploring the world has, as numerous surveys attest, having no effect on the incidences of abuse. They are simply not related.
Exploring is learning. It also clears the mind. “Children undertaking activities in nature appear to improve symptoms of ADHD [Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder] by 30 percent compared to urban outdoor activities and threefold compared to the indoor environment,” according to Dr. William Bird of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, although quite what birds have to with anything is, as yet, totally unclear.
The importance of play, and in particular unsupervised play is hardly a bombshell, but has been recognised since time immemorial. Agian we’ll refer to those medieval Europeans whose children were expected to perform domestic chores but afterward were free to play, unsupervised in the main. Toys that have made their way down through the archaeological record are not always the perfect manufactured items of today’s children. They may have been ramshackle and made by the children themselves. Play changed very little until now – balls hoops, climbing chasing etc. Only now though, do children have the freedom to sink into a couch and become gloriously engorged while playing violent virtual games made for adults.
Adults must remember their own childhoods. This is the guide – if something worked then, it ought to work now, the world has not changed drastically in that time. In a recent survey 43 per cent thought that 14 was the earliest age at which children should be allowed to go out unsupervised. This is a full four years older than the majority of respondents had been where they took their first solo steps out into the wide world. But we have no excuse – the dangers now are the same as they were then, we have not suddenly become a car-based world, we have not suddenly changed the make-up of our cities.
Eventually we all leave the nest to explore, so when should this happen? This is the debate that is ongoing in relation to the school transport of two children in London. Eight and five is very young but it would seem this was not the case 4 generations ago.
We have curtailed the exact freedoms we wish our children to have due to our own concerns. Why do we allow this to continue? Most will take the easy route and blame the media and their sensationalisation of paedophilia, but the roots of this are deeper. A few years ago Unicef concluded that Britain was one of the worst places in the industrialised world to be a child, so this is no quick fix issue. As we perceive more pitfalls for our children so we mollycoddle them to a greater extent, leaving them further isolated.
There are a million epithets that could be applied to the situation such as killing them with kindness. No linguistic dressing can resolve this issue; the mere fact remains that now, as never before, our children’s horizons are closing in tight.
A last word goes to David Ball, Professor of Risk Management, Middlesex University: “There is a gathering view that British children and young people no longer have a good childhood. Their lives are dominated by time spent at home, in organised activities, and motor transport. The days of playing freely and imaginatively with friends and without adult intrusion have been severely curtailed.”
The Making of Europe, Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950 – 1350, Robert Bartlett, Penguin, 1993
The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman, Random House, 1994
Intergenerational Sexual Contact: A Continuum Model of Participants and Experiences by Joan A. Nelson, Ed.D.
Hanawalt, Barbara, The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford University Press, 1986)
Steve Berg in the Star Tribune discusses Nefl Postman (sic)
Some interesting Statistics
Sunday Times ran a piece on this subject ut then undermined it with cherry-picked figures at the end
The Daily Mail used some wonderful graphics to highlight how this change occurred in one family
The Telegraph’s take on this divisive issue
The culture of children in medieval England, Nicholas Orme, Past and Present, August, 1995
Excellent resource on medieval childhood
Adbusters decided this debate signals the end of childhood itself – hasty? Oh yes…
Bringing the real (ie natural) world into playground design, to compensate for what kids are missing
Prime Time Investigates: Crimes Against Children – Evil Online, RTE, Shown: Monday 31st May 2010
Children in medieval times
The role of play in children’s development in medieval times
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 at
It is archived in Culture, Environment, Health, History and tagged children, explore, fear, freedom, fun, learning, play, protection, security.