In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, more than 200 academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders, including Philip Parkin, Voice's General Secretary, raise their concerns that children's well-being and mental health is being undermined by the pressures of modern life.
The group urges the Government to address a culture of "too much, too soon" in Britain, with measures such as a ban on all forms of advertising aimed at the youngest children, the establishment of a play-based curriculum for infants and a public information campaign warning of the dangers of screen-based entertainment.
This letter follows one sent five years ago that criticised politicians and the public for failing to allow children to develop properly at a young age.
A recent UN report found that British parents of trapped children in a cycle of "compulsive consumerism", showering them with toys and designer labels instead of spending quality time with them.
"Five years ago, your newspaper published a letter signed by more than 100 experts, arguing that children's well-being and mental health were being adversely affected by modern technological and commercial culture. Since then, several high-profile reports on the state of childhood in Britain have agreed that our children are suffering from a relentless diet of “too much, too soon” with Unicef finding Britain to have the lowest levels of children's well-being in the developed world, and Britain coming out near the top of international league tables on almost all indicators of teenage distress and disaffection.
"Although parents are deeply concerned about this issue, the erosion of childhood in Britain has continued apace since 2006. Our children are subjected to increasing commercial pressures, they begin formal education earlier than the European norm, and they spend ever more time indoors with screen-based technology, rather than in outdoor activity.
"The time has come to move from awareness to action. We call on all organisations and individuals concerned about the erosion of childhood to come together to achieve the following:
- public information campaigns about children's developmental needs, what constitutes “quality childcare”, and the dangers of a consumerist screen-based life-style;
- the establishment of a genuinely play-based curriculum in nurseries and primary schools up to the age of six, free from the downward pressure of formal learning, tests and targets;
- community-based initiatives to ensure that children's outdoor play and connection to nature are encouraged, supported and resourced within every local neighbourhood; and
- the banning of all forms of marketing directed at children up to at least age seven.
"It is everyone's responsibility to challenge policy-making and cultural developments that entice children into growing up too quickly and to protect their right to be healthy and joyful natural learners. Top-down, political approaches to change always have their limitations, no matter how well-intentioned. It is only by coming together as a unifying voice from the grass roots, therefore, that we can hope to interrupt the erosion of childhood, and find a more human way to nurture and empower all our children."
"The social model that has developed over the last 30 years has changed the nature of parenthood significantly. I'm making no judgement, but the focus on the individual rather than community, changing family structures, the shortening of many relationships, the creation of more step-families, the emphasis on parents working and the consequent perceived devaluing of the role of full-time parent have all changed the way we behave and the character of childhood .
"Who has created this social climate? Adults. Parents have to take their share of responsibility, but so have adults who comprise and vote for governments, control the media, commercialise children, promote the cult of celebrity, or promote greedy, selfish behaviour adults who don't understand 'community'
"We need to be aware of adults' roles and responsibilities in creating the environment in which children grow. Schools are expected to compensate not just for parents' shortcomings, but also for the pressures adult society imposes on young people .
"The children's agenda can't exist outside of a vision for the whole of society. The government needs to articulate what sort of a society it's trying to create and to share it with us. That includes the responsibilities we all bear as adults and parents."
"appropriate play-based, experiential curriculum. We are very concerned about children beginning a formal academic education too early in order to satisfy the demands of an inappropriate testing regime. Children are individuals and vary greatly in their academic development and readiness for formal learning. A later start to formal education remains our preferred option."
"young children learn through play and interaction and that countries such as Finland that do not start formal education until children are six or seven and that use a social pedagogy approach, have broader curriculums that are better suited to children's natural learning strategies and provide a better foundation for life and lifelong learning a highly prescriptive, inflexible academic curriculum at an early age is 'too much, too young'" .
"The current system of test-based 'accountability' is for the benefit of the government, rather than for providing information for parents and taxpayers, and teachers' professional judgement would provide a better and more cost-effective measure of pupils' progress."
"There is no easy answer, and no one answer, to how we square the circle of poor parenting, social deprivation and inequality and poor educational achievement and damaged life chances. The debates about nature or nurture, social class and parenting methods have been around for centuries and will continue, but 'How do we give our children a good start in life?' is one of the most fundamental questions of all and one that deserves greater thought and insight from politicians interested only in tinkering round the edges before the next election."
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(Here is the DfE’s response.)