02 January 2004
In the year that MSN closed its chatrooms, blaming child safety concerns, my thinking around interactive spaces was most shaped by Demos' Other People's Children. In this paper - and a brilliant polemic in the New Statesman (subscription required) - the three main threats to children were identified as: commercialisation, paranoia and the privatisation of parenting.
In the Demos paper, Gillian Thomas and Gina Hocking argue that one effect of the new individualism is to push responsibility for children back to the individual family and household, and to reduce community responsibility; "children are seen as a lifestyle choice rather than a given social phenomenon."
They also explain that children playing freely in public space has become less acceptable:
Far fewer children walk to school - a decline from 67% in 1985 to 53% in 1997-99. 57% of the public think that children are more at risk from paedophiles than they used to be, a misconception that places further barriers - physical and emotional - between children and mainstream adult life.
Accompanying this retreat of responsibility is the growth in scope and influence of 'private' consumption:
'Private' toys such as the PlayStation and the PC are used within the home, whereas the bicycle and roller skates were street and park toys. Even within the home the television set in the bedroom makes watching TV a private, rather than a family, experience for a child.
Finally they argue that one major effect of all of this is that families appear to be becoming more risk averse:
Colonisation, a term used to describe intensive adult supervision, agenda setting, and influence over children's lives is a trend arising from privatisation, risk aversion and the reach of modern communications.
She's kind and she's happy and she lets us do most things. But not dangerous things like going round the block because people could come and take us.
Zainab (aged 8) talking to Libby Brooks about her Grandmother (Guardian, 2 July 2002)
No surprise then that most predictions for 2004 include paranoid parenting. The Observer identifies 'Helicopter parents' as one of its 20 big ideas for 2004. And there's no shortage of tools for parents to deploy - from truancy alerts via SMS to location tracking.
So, as parents become increasingly worried about their children's safety, they withdraw them from public space. According to Thomas and Hocking, this ignores "the importance of holism for children - promoting social and emotional development, independent play and civic participation alongside material wealth and academic attainment." They also argue that it threatens not just their childhood experience, but also their profile and influence in wider society.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Helicopter parents: