No wonder our children are bonkers

The problem lies with adults who express their own anxieties in their attitudes to the young

LAST WEEK'S revelation that our children are suffering from primary- school executive stress, are often weirdly neurotic and are generally going bonkers, should perhaps come as no surprise.

For some time, after all, we've known that more pupils are being excluded from schools than ever before. The rise in juvenile crime has become so severe that a children's prison is now available where 11- and 12-year- olds are put under the care of Group Four security operatives. As for the mental health of our more law-abiding children, a recent survey that put Tim Henman in 11th place in a list of moral and spiritual leaders most respected by 15-year-olds tells its own grim story.

The problem, it need hardly be said, lies not with children, most of whom remain surprisingly sane, but with adults who tend to express their own anxieties in their attitudes towards the young.

The Victorians were clammily obsessed with the innocence of childhood and eagerly painted or photographed its naked, prelapsarian purity. More recently, the ideals of the hippie revolution curdled at the precise point, in the late Sixties, when its leaders became preoccupied with the "liberation" of schoolchildren, while the following decade revealed a sort of guilt-ridden fear of the young, with the new wave of such books and films as The Exorcist, Flowers in the Attic and The Shining.

Elements of all these neuroses are evident today - for example, in the unhealthy media interest in paedophilia and in the peculiar public rage shown against young offenders - but a contemporary gloss has been added. According to last week's report, from the Mental Health Foundation, children are increasingly perceived either as "evil demons" or, on the other hand, as "designer accessories or pets".

In other words, now that we not only compete for better salaries but also like to show a healthy profit in our caring, emotional lives, the need to be seen as a successful parent has become central. Children have become little ambassadors for their proud, boastful parents.

But to raise these acceptably dynamic yet well mannered children, who pass all the right exams and get into the right schools, requires money, effort and anxiety from middle-class parents in the private system. Ruinously expensive nursery schools employ a head of studies who solemnly reports to parents on the academic progress of their four-year-olds. Teachers in private and public sectors are under unprecedented pressure from the more ambitious parents to push their progeny up out of the much-feared average-ability band.

Oddly, these attitudes seem to have infected the educational system as a whole. The national curriculum has radically reduced the time pupils spend playing or in lessons now deemed less important (music or drama, for example) in favour of yet another exam-geared lesson in literacy or arithmetic. In our eagerness to turn our children into respectable, upwardly mobile mini-adults, we are squeezing out the very moments of leisure, freedom and exploration that would provide them with the self-sufficiency and emotional resources they need to survive in an absurdly stressful world. The much-vaunted caring society is in too much of a hurry to allow children to develop at their own pace.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, parents who have discovered that their children are neither pets nor accessories but are every bit as inconveniently imperfect as any adult express the new spirit of selfishness not in over-competitiveness but with neglect - passing on an inheritance of despair and cynicism. No wonder the next generation is going off the rails.

Judging by figures published by the Children's Society, the situation of young people in Britain is one of deep crisis. There has been a 450 per cent increase in permanent exclusions from school since 1990. The number of 15- and 16-year-olds in custody rose by 72 per cent in the three years before 1995. We imprison more young people than any other country in the European community - 5,300 a year compared to 16 in Denmark and 25 in Portugal. An average of 100 children run away from home every day.

Nor should those who point to the success of that nice Tim Henman in the survey of moral role models be too smug; a recent report into teenage language has revealed that the distrust of 13-year-olds of anyone who does not conform to generally accepted norms of clean-cut looks and conventional behaviour is part of a deep and often violent sexual or racial prejudice. The reason for their closed-mindedness is a profound sense of insecurity.

The mini-adults are coming into their inheritance.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable