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The Education Forum

Modern life and childhood depression

John Simkin

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This letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph today:


Sir - As professionals and academics from a range of backgrounds, we are deeply concerned at the escalating incidence of childhood depression and children’s behavioural and developmental conditions. We believe this is largely due to a lack of understanding, on the part of both politicians and the general public, of the realities and subtleties of child development.

Since children’s brains are still developing, they cannot adjust – as full-grown adults can – to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change. They still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed “junk”), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.

They also need time. In a fast-moving hyper-competitive culture, today’s children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum. They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini-adults and exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past.

Our society rightly takes great pains to protect children from physical harm, but seems to have lost sight of their emotional and social needs. However, it’s now clear that the mental health of an unacceptable number of children is being unnecessarily compromised, and that this is almost certainly a key factor in the rise of substance abuse, violence and self-harm amongst our young people.

This is a complex socio-cultural problem to which there is no simple solution, but a sensible first step would be to encourage parents and policy-makers to start talking about ways of improving children’s well-being. We therefore propose as a matter of urgency that public debate be initiated on child-rearing in the 21st century this issue should be central to public policy-making in coming decades.

Professor Peter Abbs, University of Sussex,

Liz Attenborough, Manager, Talk to Your Baby Campaign,

Robin Balbernie, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist,

Jean Barlow, Teacher Consultant, Rochdale Children’s Trust,

Sally Barnes, Writer and consultant on early years education

Geoff Barton, Headteacher King Edward VI School, Suffolk

Camilla Batmanghelidjh, Founder, Kids Club

Virginia Beardshaw, CEO, I CAN

Dr Robert Beckford, University of Birmingham, Documentary maker, Professor of African Diasaporin Studies

Professor Ron Best, Roehampton University

John C. Beyer, Director of Mediawatch UK

Sir Richard Bowlby, President, Centre for Child Mental Health

David Brazier, Author, abbot

Professor Tim Brighouse, Commissioner for London Schools

Mick Brookes, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

Professor Greg Brooks, University of Sheffield

Dr Christopher Houghton Budd, Economic historian

Christabel Burniston, President, The English Speaking Board

Jean Clark, Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

etc. etc. (over a 100 people have signed the letter)

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