Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Bernard Trafford

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Bernard Trafford

Article excerpt

WHO'D be a parent? I was one once, but fortunately grew out of it. In my day job I inevitably witness in enormous numbers the fruits of other people's attempts at parenting, some better than others!

There are handbooks, of course: but when you're busy being a mum or dad there's no time to read those books. Most of us just muddle through, doing our best. And, to be fair, most of us get it pretty well right most of the time and our children grow up into generally well-adjusted and successful adults.

Still, this coming weekend will see a debate in London, entitled Battle of Ideas. One of the debaters will be Dr David Eberhard, Swedish author of last year's controversial book How the Children Took Power. Dr Eberhard concluded that his country had created so excessively child-centric an approach that Swedish children had become "porcelain dolls", too emotionally fragile to be challenged in any way.

We Brits haven't created porcelain dolls, he says: instead we're so obsessed with safety that we wrap them in cotton wool, not even letting them cycle or walk to school.

He could be right. Sustrans, the cycling charity, found in a 2010 survey that almost half of children would like to cycle to school: only 4% are allowed to do so. Moreover, Dr Eberhard says that, while young people are knowledgeable about sex, they're so overprotected that they have no idea about taking physical knocks or dealing with the casual cruelties of everyday life, having had no experience of taking responsibility for themselves.

If he's right, who's to blame? Not parents alone: we nowadays inhabit an obsessively risk-averse world.

The Health and Safety Executive is at pains to stress that it's not against risk, merely requiring that risk be assessed and minimised. Yet, amid ill-informed cries of "Health and Safety gone mad", ancient traditions like rolling cheeses down steep hills are cancelled: headteachers ban conker-fighting; and kids, well, kids just don't play out like they used to.

It's tempting to say we should man up, that schools and parents should simply be more robust. …

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