‘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

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook  

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Simon Kelner
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic