Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Second revolution wanted

Over the past couple of decades there has been a revolution in the way adults and children relate to one another.

Well-intentioned initiatives, designed to protect children from being physically chastised at school or at home, or from being assaulted by paedophiles, have had the unintended consequence of snapping the wider social bonds between the generations.

Children are taught to fear everyone they don’t know and told that no stranger can touch them.

Adults, fearful of being accused of paedophilia, avert their eyes when toddlers smile at them and dare not pick up a child if it falls from a swing.

There is no general building of warmth or trust.

Later, grown men are frightened to reprimand young girls, or to lay a hand on an aggressive boy, for fear of being accused of assault.

Children grow up in a cold vacuum of apparent mutual indifference, where they learn to ignore and be ignored by people around them.

They find that they get no help from adults when they are scared or mugged, but nor are they stopped when they intimidate anyone else.

They learn that they can feel powerful in public because everyone else is too scared to challenge them.

It’s not surprising that a minority of such children grow up indifferent to others’ feelings and are outraged, sometimes to the point of violence, when asked to consider them.

That’s the result of leaving them to act like Lords of the Flies.

There’s only one answer to this situation and that is for adults to reclaim their role.

It needs courage from individuals but it requires commitment by governments, too.

The legislative and social framework that deters people from engaging with children from their earliest years, from touching them or intervening in assaults, has to change.

The government are belatedly recognising the problem.

Last month in England Jack Straw oversaw a law that gives new protection to those who act instinctively to protect themselves or others.

Next they need to stop reinforcing the idea that every stranger is a danger and that adults and children shouldn’t interact.

It’s no way to build a safer society.

Unless we want this spiral of anxiety and violence to continue, we have to recognise our mutual dependence and stop seeing one another as a threat.

Jenni Russell - Times

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