Act Quickly: Our Kids are Facing an Existential Crisis?

By Adam Walker

Our children are facing an existential crisis. But hey, don’t worry; we can always delegate parenthood to our televisions, tablets and smart-phones. That’ll work out dandily!

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Let me explain to you why the word ‘existential’ is warranted and not just ‘’neat’’ click-bait? Here are a few facts and then you decide. Last year, a Children’s Society report found that compared to other countries, our children are the second unhappiest. Roughly half a million British kids aged 10-12 years are physically bullied at school, with 38% of those surveyed subjected to an assault.

The well-being of school girls is even more troubling. A more recent report by the same organisation found that 14% of 10 to 15-year-old girls are unhappy with their lives and 34% with their appearance. The takeaway point from the report is that an increasing number of girls feel worthless and ugly. Add to this a recent Parliamentary report that revealed a troubling normalisation of sexual harassment and sexual violence in school.

Specifically, the report found that boys at school are increasingly treating sexual assault, even rape, as part of acceptable ”lad culture.” Serious questions were also posed regarding how far teachers go to dispel this hideous notion. Let’s quantify what sexual crime here translates into. Of those incidents reported –we know most are not– there were 5,500 sexual offences, including 600 rapes, that took place in our schools over a three-year period.

Returning to self-esteem and wellbeing, the reality is even worse than we thought. A study conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, King’s College London and Harvard University found strong indications that children as young as eight were ‘displaying signs that they were dissatisfied with their bodies’.

The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) went a step further in a survey it conducted with pre-school carers, which revealed that children as young as three ‘have body image issues and some four-year-olds know how to go on a diet’.

There are lots of causes behind the above problems. However, common to all studies is the ever-increasing impact that television and the internet are having on our children. And whichever way we attempt to sugar-coat it, in a selfish desire to avoid self-accountability and guilt, the naked truth is that we have delegated large portions of our parenting to devices.

A recent academic report on screen-time found, on average, that children under five years spend 8 hours and 18 minutes per week on the internet. Add to this a further 4 hours per day in front of the TV or a computer (25 hours per week!).

Things are not easy for parents – I know. And I also realise that many of the issues surrounding appearance and low self-esteem, often driven by computer-generated images of ‘’perfection’’, are also being faced by adults. Nevertheless, the cycle needs to be broken. Parents should be raising their children, not leaving it to their devices; more importantly, parents ought to become role models for their children and not allow ‘unreality TV’ to assign their children plastic idols.

Adam Walker is an author, writer and aspiring academic. You can follow him at @AdamWalkerGB.

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