Childhood in "Crisis"?

Childhood in "Crisis"?

Childhood in "Crisis"?

Childhood in "Crisis"?

Synopsis

Examining debates concerning children and young people, this text discusses the politics of childhood, focusing on topics such as: the family; education and schooling; mental health; crime and justice; and sexuality.

Excerpt

Throughout the 1990s widely-proclaimed assumptions about the demise of childhood, the ill-discipline of children and the lawlessness of youth have dominated popular discourses and political reaction. Widespread condemnation of the erosion of family life and the decline of school standards as the central institutions of children’s socialization, has fuelled adult indignation and claims of a ‘lost generation’ of young people. A litany of the deviants has been constructed providing evidence that the social and moral fabric of British society is collapsing, infected at its childhood foundations. The streets, it is argued, are inhabited by drug users, runaways, joyriders and persistent young offenders. Schools suffer the excesses of bullies, truants and disruptive pupils. Families have become ‘dismembered’, replaced by lone mothers, characterized by absent fathers. Whatever the broader political-economic context, the growing divide between conspicuous, affluent consumerism and below-the-breadline existence, the judgmental finger of marginalization and exclusion points at pathological individuals and degenerate communities. ‘Childhood’ is in ‘crisis’, children lack appropriate discipline, parental control or professional guidance. The political message, broadly consensual across the main parties, is that we (meaning the collective of responsible adulthood) have become too soft, too understanding and too tolerant. Thatcher’s 1980s ‘return to Victorian values’ was superseded by Major’s ‘back to basics’ initiative, his rallying call in the war on ‘yob culture’. Not to be overshadowed, New Labour’s Tony Blair called for an awakening of the ‘sleeping conscience of the country’ to guard against the potential of ‘moral chaos which engulfs us all’.

The catalyst for this outpouring of adult condemnation, directed remorselessly against contemporary childhood, was the killing in February 1993 of a young child, James Bulger, and the subsequent arrest and conviction of two 10-year-old children. It came hard on the heels of moral panics over escalating crime, no-go areas and the ‘rising underclass’. It was portrayed as the extreme end of a developing continuum of children’s aberrant and criminal behaviour, the inevitable outcome of the breakdown of parental and community discipline. Although a rare and exceptional event, the circumstances of James Bulger’s death and the violence of the two boys gave rise to a prolonged and generalized condemnation of children, families and communities. The intensity, style and content of adult reaction was unprecedented. While such an

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