The Chains of Childhood

The debate about childhood should focus on something more specific than the pros and cons of modern life.

It is tempting to dismiss yesterday’s letter to a national newspaper from 110 leading experts on childhood as a wail of nostalgia, or as Dave Hill put it, a reflection clouded by “banks of wistful cumuli”. After all, their chosen paper was the Daily Telegraph. And the list of causes included most aspects of modern life: junk food, sedentary based entertainment, lack of interaction with real significant adults and lack of time. But it is interesting how few people, including Dave Hill, are dismissing the letter in its entirety. The massive media response shows that the frustrations behind it are widespread.

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Thank God that’s over

Half-term is hell – parents and children need proper summer holidays, not odd weeks off

School holidays, especially half-term ones, are one of this society’s great unrecognised sources of inequality. For a few parents, today will be the first day back at work after one of the many unofficial holidays they now take. This half-term will probably have been spent in the UK but in February they, like Geoff Hoon, are likely to have been skiing. In October they will probably have a late holiday in the Mediterranean or a city break in Europe. Their kids, lured by the change of scenery or exotic venues, won’t be too difficult.

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Milly’s fearful legacy

Along with grief about the death of Milly Dowler has come anger. Anger that any family has to go through such suffering, and especially that such an ordinary loving family should be robbed in this terrible way. There’s another anger too, expressed by residents of Milly’s home town, that a young girl was not safe walking home from school in broad daylight.

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As good as it gets

As national parents week gets underway, Ros Coward asks whether we ever really know if we’re doing it right

The British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott was the first to work with the idea of “the good-enough parent”. He illustrated its meaning by describing possible interactions between a mother, a baby on the point of crawling, and an interesting toy just out of the baby’s reach. The too-good mother can’t bear the baby’s frustration and immediately hands the toy to the baby. The not-good-enough mother leaves the baby too long with its frustrations. The good-enough mother allows the baby to explore its own capacities but not so long that frustration turns to despair.

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For much of the19th century, childhood was often short and brutish, and the young treated merely as small adults. And now? Continuing Weekend’s comprehensive review of our century, we look at the changing attitudes to life’s beginners

Is there a history of childhood in the 20th century? The lives of children have, after all, been as socially and psychologically varied as those of their parents. Yet some changes have completely transformed expectations for the early years of life. Indeed, childhood as we understand it was invented this century. Now, we view childhood as a prolonged and protected phase with considerable rights and consumer powers.

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