Young children are being short-changed

27th July 2007 at 01:00
I recently received my first official letter about my seven-year-old son's bullying antics at school. It turned out to be based largely on his teasing a neighbour's son for playing with my daughter "up a tree, K I S S I N G".

In the end, the school realised that the incident was not important and it was resolved. But it is strange that this sort of thing is seen as something that schools should and, indeed, must take so seriously.

Bullying is perhaps the clearest example of childish activities being taken seriously by adults in a way they would not have been in the past. More generally, the way we discuss children has profoundly changed recently, so much so that the space that was "childhood" appears to have all but vanished.

When was the last time, for example, that you heard anyone say: "Ah well, boys will be boys"; or describe badly behaved children as being "mischievous" or "boisterous".

After the Renaissance, and especially after the Enlighten-ment, "childhood" was invented. It was something that in reality was largely based on the creation of adulthood and the idea of the universal rights of man, the adult.

Today, rather than seeing childhood as separate from adulthood, children are often incorrectly seen, as in medieval times, as mini-adults.

However, while childhood is being lost, we also appear to have reinvented "children" as a separate community. The idea of children's rights and the existence of children's commissioners express well this imagined separation of interests, by those in the know, between children and adults.

Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's Children's Commissioner, has argued that "bullying is a crime". Taken literally, this further reinforces the criminalisation of children and intensifies the scrutiny of their behaviour in a manner that should be the preserve of responsible adults, rather than minors who call each other names and have fights on a daily basis.

Childhood, unlike adulthood, should be understood as a collective space where peers bounce off one another as they develop towards adulthood. But today, in our frenzied concern with all things abusive, we are colonising this space with adult preoccupations and paranoia.

After all, if children were just mini-adults, there would be no teasing about kissing although there may some questions raised about why this was being done up a tree.

Stuart Waiton

is director of GenerationYouthIssues.org

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