How Far Should They Go?

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON

IF ONE of the most basic laws of sci-ence is that the fit survive, successful parents must be vigilant in the protec-tion of their children. Yet parents today are bombarded with warnings of dangers to their offspring. Parents and children hear daily horror stories of how things as diverse as the internet, chicken nuggets, computer games and karate can pose threats to physical and mental well-being. Does this mean the current generation of parents has the best chance of raising safe and alert children who will thrive in adult life? Or is excessive caution a new danger to society with potentially per-ilous effects? Fads of fear PLAYGROUND crazes for new toys, gadgets, foods and fashion items are mir-rored by the fears of parents. Media reporting of any horrific inci-dent involving a child will immediately prompt an attentive parent to assess the dangers of their own son or daughter being involved in a similar tragedy. Schools across Wales received calls from parents inquiring into the dangers of dog faeces on playing fields following a high-profile story of a pupil who need-ed surgery when a graze became infected after he fell on a polluted pitch. Teachers at Pendoylan Church In Wales Primary School, in the Vale of Glamorgan, now patrol the school grounds before outdoor games are held. Deputy head teacher Emma Harris claims such awareness of dangers has led parents to take an acute interest in the minutiae of how the school works. Parents are examining not only the school menus, but the ingredients used in meals. Publicity concerning alleged ill-effects of E-numbers, fizzy drinks and fatty foods on children's IQs and physio-logical wellbeing has made parents pay attention to all aspects of their diet. Improved detection of allergies has also made it essential for teachers to ensure pupils in their care do not eat foods which could damage their health. Mrs Harris said, "If a parent brings in a birthday cake, we must be so care-ful". This attention to risk is now present in every aspect of school life. "We have policies for everything," said Mrs Harris. The introduction of the internet into the classroom has made it more pressing than ever that teachers know precisely what their pupils are working on. All computers have monitoring soft-ware installed to block offensive sites, but a supervising teacher is always on hand to ensure that no potentially dis-turbing material is downloaded. Despite such measures, teachers are wary of any legal action which could result if a child was exposed to adult websites and parents must sign a permis-sion form before their children are allowed to use the internet. Dr Christopher Howard, head master of Lewis Boys' School in Pengam, believes the development of litigious school culture would drain resources and increase bureaucracy. He said, "It's destructive and time-consuming, involving us in extra paper-work. There's a charge to the public purse in all this." Just as lawsuits have transformed the working environment of the NHS, Dr Howard believes schools will soon be bombarded with claims too. Sources of lawsuits range from acci-dents in science labs to sports injuries to the distress caused by bullying. In Pendoylan, parents of the younger pupils take a keen interest in the emo- tional health of their offspring. Mrs Harris said, "They tend to worry - are their children happy?" The greatest cause of anxiety, though, is whether or not their children are safe from malevolent adults. Parents are keen for schools to have cameras and at Pendoylan adults even accompany pupils home on the buses. Excessive concern Is such dedicated attention by parents to their children's welfare a good thing? The measure of success must be how an awareness of hazards affects a child's development. Delwyn Tattum is co-director of the Countering Bullying Unit at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff. Parents intending to teach their chil-dren to avoid danger can inadvertently instil timidity. …