Risk aversion intruding on young lives

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
What is claimed by some as bullying, could just be falling out in the playground, claims a leading children's play expert. Elizabeth Buie reports.The level of playground bullying is being exaggerated and children should learn to cope with name-calling, according to a leading children's play expert.

Tim Gill, whose new book No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society was published this week, argues that molly-coddling children by labelling "unpleasant behaviour" as bullying is stopping them from building the skills they need to protect themselves. "I have spoken to teachers and educational psychologists who say that parents and children are labelling as bullying what are actually minor fallings-out," said Mr Gill, the former director of the Children's Play Council, who is currently advising the Conservative Party's childhood review.

His book argues that parents, teachers, police, the Government and wider society are all guilty of "bubble-wrapping" children and over-reacting to risks such as "stranger danger", injury and abuse.

Instead of creating a "nanny state", we should build a society where communities look out for each other and youngsters. Childhood is being undermined by the growth of risk aversion and its intrusion into every aspect of children's lives, he claimed.

Stuart Waiton, chair of Glasgow-based Generation Youth Issues and a commentator on risk, and parenting-related issues, concurred with Mr Gill's comments. He cited the case of his own seven-year-old son being accused of bullying because he taunted his sister and a friend for being "up a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g".

"The problem is that it is procedurised," he said, calling for more common sense to be applied.

It was only through encountering risks that children learned how to overcome challenging situations, nurturing their character and fostering a sense of adventure, entrepreneurialism, resilience and self-reliance, said Mr Gill.

"Although there is a widely-held view that children grow up faster today, in fact their lives are far more controlled than they were 30 years ago."

In a separate report this week, Scottish parents said their greatest concern was that their child would become a victim of bullying.

Research by the Royal Bank of Scotland claims that 34 per cent of primary-aged children have experienced bullying in the playground.

The report also finds that 10 per cent of children in Scotland experience boredom at breaktime, underlining the concerns of the school grounds charity, Learning through Landscapes, that children often engage in bullying or negative behaviour because they are bored in the playground.

Some 42 per cent of parents surveyed said their children's playground facilities required significant improvement, with more than 31 per cent claiming that the lack of sporting facilities was the worst aspect of the playground.

The research was published to coincide with the launch of the bank's national Dream Playgrounds competition, which has a prize fund of pound;200,000 for the school playgrounds in Britain most in need of new facilities.

Nominations for the Dream Playgrounds competition can be made at www.rbs.comdreamplaygrounds.

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