Editor's comment

6th February 2009 at 00:00

The Children's Society report published this week (p3) is a curious affair, a hotchpotch of dispassionate research findings topped with a muddled commentary and marred by the bitter aftertaste of moral censure.

No wonder, given that the panel presiding over A Good Childhood had academics alongside children's representatives and religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Muslim Council for Britain's secretary general. The resultant blend of empirical truths and slanted analysis includes many useful insights into the state of childhood, but pulls them into a contrived single narrative of selfish adults blighting the lives of hapless youngsters.

Most controversially, the migration of more women into the workplace is deemed largely to blame for high rates of family break-up and the fact that a third of 16-year-olds do not live with their biological father. The "aggressive pursuit of personal success is now the greatest threat to our children", we are told. The first finding cited is the malign effect of women's "new economic independence". Intentionally or not, the implication is one of rapacious mums neglecting not only their children but the nation's benevolent dads.

Not all findings play into the hands of reactionary elements and there are some intriguing ideas, not least the suggestion that national assessments in emotional well-being should be introduced. There is a risk of hiving off pupils' mental health into one part of an already busy curriculum instead of a more holistic approach but, given that the number of children suffering significant emotional difficulties has doubled since the 1970s, the idea could prompt a useful debate.

It's a shame about the plaintive conclusion that "traditional beliefs have weakened and the void has been filled by an excessive individualism". The way ahead for 21st-century children is obscured by a sentimental hankering for the past.

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