Society has changed; kids haven't

4th June 2010 at 01:00

Don't watch much television, but last night I switched on to see the news and a programme called The Gadget Show had just started. Among other things, it was reviewing home cinema systems, so I decided to watch.

Within 15 minutes my mind was reeling. The presenters were talking at breakneck speed and waving their arms around like windmills in a tornado. No shot lasted longer than ten seconds, the camerawork was frenetic, and the reviews of the home cinema systems were so brief I learned nothing at all. I assume programmes are compiled like this because there is an ever-present worry that the impatient viewer might flick channels.

No wonder teachers have a difficult job. We've all noticed the attention spans of children getting shorter, and the media panders to youngsters just as much as adults. And so many children watch highly unsuitable drama, often peppered with what the presenters say is "strong language". It would be more truthful if the presenter simply said "the following programme is full of swearing".

Switch on the average soap, and you'll invariably find characters shouting abuse at each other. Watch football, and you'll be lucky to see a match where some of the players don't shove or have a pop at each other. Invariably, somebody will argue with the referee, and I haven't watched a match in years where the players aren't continually spitting on the grass. I don't remember Bobby Moore needing to expectorate every five minutes. And despite the fact that there are hundreds of television channels to choose from, the content of many is frighteningly vacuous.

Before pupils join my nursery class, the teacher undertakes home visits to meet the children and their parents, and every home she visited this year had a huge widescreen television. In one lounge, there was no furniture at all, but the room contained the biggest television she'd ever seen. The parent didn't even bother to turn the volume down while my teacher was trying to talk.

If it's not the TV screen children are watching, they'll be eating dubious takeaways, playing electronic games in their bedrooms, twiddling on their mobiles, or going onto the internet Facebooking, Twittering and blogging until they fall asleep. And it's becoming more and more difficult for parents to monitor what their offspring are watching and playing. Such is the ease of accessing pornography - even on the latest mobile phones - a recent report suggested that by the age of 13 many youngsters will have viewed around 200 strangers having sex. It really seems as if our children are heading into the abyss....

And yet. And yet.

When I stop to think about it, the children in my school don't really seem that much different from 20 years ago. Camberwell was a challenging area then and it remains a challenging area now. The changing social landscape has simply brought a different set of problems. But the children are still interesting, enthusiastic, full of humour and fun to be with.

I stood in the hall last Thursday, listening to our orchestra, and marvelled at 40 children thoroughly enjoying playing Mozart. On Friday, I watched a Year 6 class performing a play they'd worked on this half-term. It was of an exceptionally high standard. I read the constant stream of posts on our website from past pupils, who tell me what they're doing now, and how much they loved their time at our school. And virtually every day I see children like Jason from Reception, who staggered into my room yesterday to proudly demonstrate the submarine he'd built from 12 cardboard boxes, complete with periscope and turbo-driven propellers.

Perhaps, after all, we shouldn't worry too much just yet.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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