‘Play safe and always avoid risk’ is a sad lesson to teach our children

Kids these days have an exaggerated faith in formal qualifications over practical experience. What's wrong with them?

Share

The event had been set up to help children at a secondary school with career advice and, perhaps because the theme was working in the creative industries, it was well-attended.

The questions most frequently asked of me were: What qualifications do you need to become a writer? What training would you recommend? How do you become a writer?

My replies – “none”, “none” and “get writing” – were clearly not what the children expected. A more substantial career ladder seemed to have been envisaged. When I suggested that sometimes the best way of finding out what you want to do in life is to take a chance, to have a go at something and see what you can do, young faces looked at me with open scepticism. That, the unspoken message seemed to be, is not how it works these days.

It was odd, and slightly disheartening, this exaggerated faith in formal qualifications. Bright and motivated, the children were already convinced that, without the right exams on the way to their chosen career, no one would take them seriously. In effect, their caution was not that far from the deadly company ethic of the pre-1960s when the highest ambition inculcated into school-leavers was to find the security of a job for life.

The economy is only partly to blame for this new mood of anxiety. According to the clinical psychologist Professor Tanya Byron, children are being raised at every turn to fear risk, and particularly the risk of failure. In the educational magazine SecEd, Professor Byron argues that rigid teaching around core curricula means that children are not thought to think, or indeed to feel, for themselves.

At home, their parents are often fearful of danger, both physical and temperamental. Failures, even the small ones, are seen as life-changing setbacks from which it may be impossible to recover. Cosseted and nagged on all sides by a culture of competitive anxiety, children learn to distrust the unconventional and individual, to see taking a chance on something that may not work out as irresponsible and risky.

The effect, according to Prof Byron, is not simply that originality, flair and enterprise are dampened rather than encouraged. Increasing numbers of bright children from secure backgrounds suffer in their everyday lives. “There is real concern that we have a generation of young people massively lacking  in emotional resilience.”

Caution, aversion to any risk, anxiety about not jumping through the right hoops, a fear of not taking the conventional route to a socially accepted career: what a grim, life-denying legacy this is for one generation to pass on to the next.

 

Be cool. Fall in love with a tree

This year’s must-have moral accessory is a deep concern for trees. Two or three years ago, these adornments of the landscape were pretty much taken for granted. Now, thanks to the work of organisations such as the Woodland Trust, people have very sensibly begun to see that it makes as much sense to worry about the ash or horse chestnut as it does to fret about pandas, cuckoos or hedgehogs. The Government’s idiotic plan to sell off parts of the National Forest caused a startling furore earlier in the year. Ash die-back, and diseases threatening other species, have added a tug of emotion to tree mania.

Inevitably, celebrities are learning the joy of tree-hugging. This week that national treasure Joanna Lumley revealed that, although essentially pagan, she “kind of believes in trees”. It can only be a matter of time before a guest on Desert Island Discs chooses as a luxury a gorgeous selection of saplings – sustainable, of course.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems and Network Administrator

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: We are recruiting for a Systems and ...

English Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album