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Research & Policy

Children without childhood
Marie Winn

The author asks "shouldn't childhood be special and different?" Children in the past were shielded from life's problems, but today's children experience on a regular basis the often chaotic and troubling adult world. Moreover, parents who believe the notion that personality is, to a large extent, formed during the years from 0-5, may abdicate child development responsibilities and oversight once children have reached school age. While this perspective might help a parent or primary caregiver with her or his own time management, it can leave a child anchorless during a critical developmental period. This situation contributes to the development of risk factors for a variety of problems such as school failure and substance abuse. Children's glimpses of the adult world, often through television, tell them that adults are untrustworthy, and can therefore be disregarded.

The author cites many examples of how children have been robbed of their childhood. For example, children pay money to play video games - which makes them consumers, just like adults. Likewise, when opportunities for creative play give way to an emphasis on early academics such as kindergartens incorporating test-taking and homework, there is a blurring of sharp boundaries between children and parents. In addition, a loss of parents' confidence in their own good instincts and basic parenting abilities occurs, and parents attempt to explain and negotiate every issue rather than just telling children what they need to do. Another result is a sharing with children of parents' innermost vulnerabilities, fears, and uncertainties, which causes fearfulness in children who need to have a sense of parental omnipresence and strength in order to feel safe and protected.

Pantheon Books, Random House. Available in libraries. (1983, 224 pp.)


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