Children brought up 'in captivity' by risk averse parents, says leading child psychologist

Professor Tanya Byron says children no longer know how to fall over and dust themselves down to start playing again

Richard Garner
Friday 18 January 2013 13:17

Children today are being brought up “in captivity” by their parents as a result of a risk averse approach to growing up, a leading child psychologist said today.

They no longer know how to fall over and dust themselves down to start playing again, former government adviser Professor Tanya Byron told a conference in Sheffield.

“We live in a risk averse culture and levels of paranoia about children’s wellbeing and safety are insane,” she added.

“There are no more predators on the streets, no more paedophiles around now than when I was growing up in the 1970’s .”

Yet parents no longer allowed their children to play outside because of fears they might be attacked or abused.

“Kids don’t know how to fall any more – they tense themselves up (and therefore suffer strains). – whereas we used to fall all the time and dust ourselves down and get on with it,” she added. Scabs, she said, were ”a badge of honour”.

As a result, growing numbers of children were being taken to accident and emergency centres with minor injuries.

In addition, schools would now debate whether pupils should play conkers or whether they should put goggles on if they did. Snowballing was also considered a safety risk because there could be grit in the snow.

Parents also still drove them to school when they were aged 11 or 12.

“Most children spend most of their childhood being raised in captivity – they’re not free range any more,” she added. “They are hugely, hugely restricted.

“That sense of adventure , that sense of risk that you get – all those life risks that children need to develop into confident and capable human beings are being narrowed and narrowed.”

Professor Byron, who was speaking at the North of England education conference, also said there was a “lack of awareness” about how children learnt with schools reluctant to allow children to use technology in lessons. Items like mobile ‘phones were often confiscated before children got into the classroom.

“The only place they can be kids now is when they play online,” she added. “Yet if we really do believe that the only way forward for education is to take it back to the 1970’s we’re completely deluded ourselves and we’re letting children down.

“We’re not inspiring them and that I think is a great shame.”

Her comments come just weeks before the Government unveils its plans for reshaping the national curriculum which are expected to confirm a move towards a more traditional school timetable – and a focus on preparing pupils for tests and examinations.

Exam results, she added, were the “least reliable indicator” of a pupil’s intelligence.

“There are some kids who are able to understand and learn and remember things better than others – but that does not necessarily mean they’re more intelligent.”

Many pupils were misbehaved because they were “bored” with the rigid and narrow approach to education.

“We are letting down children who are bright,” she added. “This is a massive, massive problem.” Yet the Government’s answer seemed to be to introduce more tests and targets .

Earlier in the conference, Schools Minister Elizabeth Truss told delegates that the Government’s curriculum review would be published by the end of the month.

Pupils would be rewarded in maths if they showed the correct approach to working out long division even if they got the answers wrong, she added.

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