Tales of the Un-Children; Books: Critic's Choice

Daily Mail (London), July 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

Tales of the Un-Children; Books: Critic's Choice


Byline: VAL HENNESSY

THE STORY OF CHILDHOOD by Libby Brooks (Bloomsbury, [pounds sterling]8.99)

AS WE age, childhood becomes another country. So writes Libby Brooks in her absorbing study of children growing up in modern Asboafflicted Britain.

She has selected nine very different stereotyped children (aged four to 16) - country child, council-flat child, black adolescent, Iraqi immigrant, public schoolboy, schoolgirl mother, etc - and lets them talk, thus conveying a wonderfully vivid impression of young lives today.

Interspersed with their experiences and observations are Brooks's comments and illuminating insights culled from history, literature and child experts.

Perhaps her most striking and depressing observation is that the 'indoor child' has become the norm.

Sitting in solitude in front of a screen, playing virtual games, eating junk snacks, getting fat and feeling lonely, the modern child, cocooned in possessions and constantly supervised, is denied character-building opportunities for social interaction, decision-making and getting into mischief.

Brooks believes that we live in an age of 'child panic', with children in danger from paedophiles, computer porn, speeding cars, drug dealers, food additives and bullying.

This is in significant contrast to adult memories of childhood, when summers were sunny, streets playgrounds, meadows flower-filled, streams teemed with sticklebacks and adults were (mostly) remote but benign and children larked about, free and unsupervised.

HOWEVER, Brooks argues that such memories are notoriously distorted, tinged with nostalgia, and ignore the fact that childhood has always been fraught with dangers and alarms.

It is sobering to read that 250 years ago, only one in four British children survived beyond their fifth birthday.

One enormous change affecting children is the adult world's obsession with youthfulness.

The stern parent has been replaced by the matey pal who wears the same clothes, reads the same books, dances the same dances and plays the same computer games as the child. How can a be-jeaned dad, on roller-blades and listening to his iPod, tell a child to 'grow up!'?

The blurred segregation between adult and childish behaviour is a recent phenomenon, as is the materialistic child as consumer and avid shopper, pestering parents for the toy of the film, the trainer of the football stars, the celebrity and designer-label goods, and woe betide the child - an inevitable target for bullies - with the wrong trainers or mobile phone.

Today's child owns clothes, toys and possessions in amounts undreamed of a generation ago. …

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