We Have Ruined Childhood

By: Neil Mufson
What does it say about our culture that rates of childhood depression and anxiety are at their highest measured levels ever? In The New York Times Kim Brooks, who authored Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, recently reported that “children today are more depressed than they were in the Great Depression and more anxious than they were at the height of the Cold War.” Her recent article entitled “We Have Ruined Childhood” uncovers reasons that you might not expect. 
Brooks finds, of course, that “the usual culprits” of screen time, diet, lack of fresh air, over-scheduling, over-protecting, and a dearth of free time might all contribute. But when she dove deep into the relevant research, she discovered that social scientists conclude the real issue is “a fundamental shift in the way we view children and child-rearing, and the way this shift has transformed our schools, our neighborhoods, and our relationships to one another and our communities.” Please read that quote again. These findings are complex, profound, disturbing — and very difficult to reverse.
A disintegration of communal and familial structures for childcare and child raising, coupled with a dramatic increase in work demands as well as the necessity for all parents, except for the most well off, to work has led families to have “to prioritize  physical safety and adult supervision over healthy emotional and social development.” Parenthetically, it isn’t surprising that, as I have combed through research over the years, the countries that enjoy the highest levels of happiness and satisfaction are consistently those societies that are the most responsive to, and flexible about, the needs of children — and parents.
Brooks and study after study conclude that these large social forces have led to phenomena like longer school days, earlier and earlier academic demands, over-regimentation in children’s lives, active-shooter drills, the scaling back of time devoted to play or being in nature, kids being essentially warehoused or, in a more upscale version, being ferried from one structured activity to the next. All of these developmentally inappropriate “new normal” practices have unintentionally led to heartbreakingly — but not surprising — higher and higher childhood levels of unhappiness, inattention, learning issues, stress, anxiety, and suicide. 
It’s worth noting that Brooks points out that while screen time and social media may have compounded social and emotional deficits, “simply taking away or limiting screens is not enough. Children turn to screens because opportunities for real-life human interaction have vanished; the public places and spaces where kids used to learn to be people have been decimated or deemed too dangerous for those under 18.”
Clearly, it is difficult to swim against these currents. However next week I will highlight some of the measures The Country School has in place that, along with engaged and tuned-in parenting, can make a difference.

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