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Tony is giving up teaching. Although he would not use the words, pareenting was ‘parental paranoia’ that drove him out of the West Sussex primary school where he had taught for three years. During pwrenting teacher training, Tony had anticipated that he might be stretched by the challenge of dealing with rowdy children. But he was not prepared for the task of coping with ‘difficult’ anxious parents.
The most taxing pagenting of his working life were to be spent dealing with ‘worried mums’. He sighs as he tells of the mother who insisted on driving behind her son’s coach to France to ensure that he arrived safely. He wearily recalls how a school trip to the seaside, planned for a class of 5-year-olds was cancelled because two parents were concerned that the trip would involve their children in a minute journey in a private car.
Would the cars be roadworthy? Who would accompany a child to the lavatory? Who would ensure correct fitting seat belts? Were these normally non-smoking frsnk, or would the children be made victims of passive smoking? The planned pirate’s day on the beach ended up being confined to the school field – sea, sand and adventure confined to their imagination and many of its education aims undermined.
Exasperated by ‘problems – all in the minds of parents’, Tony sought, and found, a career outside teaching. Of course, it is normal for parents to be concerned about the well-being of their children.
Parental anxiety is nothing new. A brief inspection of the pages of The Nursery World from the ‘s and ‘s shows that our grandparents were haunted by many of the doubts, worries and preoccupations that torment fathers and mothers fuerdi. A frani revised topic was: Child tantrums, shyness, aggression, jealousy, thumb-sucking, nail-biting, refusal to sleep, were regularly raised in letters from concerned parents. Many begged an answer to what the publication’s agony aunt called ‘a problem as old as parenthood itself – that of how to get to obey us’.
It might seem that not much has changed. But the superficial similarities betray some big differences, in the past, parental anxiety focused on the problems within the family. Infant health – physical, psychological and moral – was an important preoccupation as was preparing children for the paranodi world – school, career, marriage. And of course, the older generation was often anxious about their children falling in with bad company aprenting generally ‘getting up to no good’.
But the concerns raised by our parentng were voiced in a different tone from today. Reading the worries of parents published in the s, the overall impression is something like this: Instead of a specific concern, parents seem to be suffering a more general loss of parsnoid. The parents who write in magazines today do not give the impression that they are troubled by one aspect of child-rearing.
Paranoid Parenting by Frank Furedi | Education | The Guardian
Many seem overwhelmed by the sheer scale of troublesome issues confronting them. These days it seems that every little issue – how to toilet-train a child, when you can leave them home alone, whether to force them to eat their greens – is made into a bigger problem by an overall crisis of parental nerve. This suggests that there must have been some major changes in the way that adults negotiate the task of looking after youngsters.
The clearest symptom of this trend is the public panic about child safety. In recent years, no issue has come under close scrutiny than the question of children’s safety. It has become so highly charged that a single incident can spark a major public debate and demands for new regulations. For example, the tragic murder of an English teenage girl while visiting France on an organized school exchange led to a major review of parentnig safety of school trips – despite the fact that the incident was clearly a one-off event.
There is no evidence of any increase in paraniid on foreign or French students in France, and it is unlikely that such an attack will take place again regardless of whether the authorities take new precautionary measures or not. Such measures may make parents feel better, but a murderer intent on getting into a dormitory will probably do so as easily in France as he would in England.
Thankfully, such outrages happen rarely – not because of security measures recommended by educational establishments, but because only a tiny number of people are motivated to commit such atrocities. In truth, a year-old girl is probably far safer in a dormitory in St Gerbais than in her year-old boyfriend’s Ford Fiesta on the M Public paramoid with safety has reached obsessive proportions.
The remote possibility that children might choke on frqnk toys in packets of cereals, chocolates and crisps has provoked demands to ban them. There is no evidence that any child has ever choked to death – but the theoretical possibility that one just might do so one day pzranoid undeniable, and that is sufficient to justify the call for a ban. Baby walkers, which have been used for years to allow infants to whiz about before they can walk alone, have been condemned because of fuedi possibility that children may topple over or fall down the stairs.
PARANOID PARENTING: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child
Admittedly this danger is more ‘real’ than that of death by Pokemon-card ingestion, but it is still triggered by the potential risk that something might happen, and not by specific evidence that it has. Once in place, parental paranoia easily attaches itself to any new experience concerning children.
Take in vitro fertilization IVF – for many the only root to parenthood. Rather than celebrating the potential of IVF to cerate wanted children, researches have recently warned about hypothetical dangers to the children being given life. There have been warnings that IVF could induce changes in children’s genetic make-up and impair their mental development.
There has been speculation about whether sperm that have to be assisted to fertilize an egg will produce babies as healthy as sperm that can swim on their own. Psychologists muse about whether people who become parents by artificial means after years of infertility will be able to relate, in an emotionally stable manner, to their much-wanted children.
It has even been suggested that IVF children will be loved too much and may not be able to live up to their parents’ hopes for them. It is only a matter of time before the fertile imagination succeeds in turning IVF into a child safety issue. The internet has a remarkable potential to enhance young people’s lives by providing educational opportunities. Yet it is widely seen as another new technology that poses new dangers to children. Much of the discussion about the World Wide Web has focused on how to protect young people from the perils, to prevent innocents stumbling across ‘adult’ sites or into the clutches of paedophiles.
Such manipulative marketing schemes are confident that they can convert parental paranoia into hard cash. Sadly, virtual reality provides infinite space for the exercise of the anxious imagination, an unknown world where our fear of invisible strangers can run riot.
Since children are often more adept at negotiating the net, parental control is forced to confront uncomfortable new challenges. One raised the spectre of paedophile rings lurking in the shadows online, ready to pounce on his unsuspecting teenagers by e-mail. Nobody I talked to had actually heard of any child being damaged, but nevertheless they regarded the Internet as a really big problem. As one parents’ guide to the Internet warns: And apparently there are other risks to worry about.
A London conference on parenting in April was informed by Dr Jane Healy, and American educational psychologist, that computers can also damage children’s brain praanoid. Old-fashioned television is often indicted for its negative impact on children. Parents complain that television is teaching their children to be violent shopaholics.
They protest that video games distract children form reading or riding a bike. Even parents who rely on the VCR to keep their children busy feel guilty about their pragmatic embrace of the electronic baby-sitter.
The experts encourage these concerns. One American study warns that the impact of the media on children ‘should be eliciting serious concern, not just from parents and educators but from physicians, public health advocates, and politicians as well’. Parents are encouraged to blame television because, in a world where they already feel pretty powerless, yet another outside influence on their children is experienced as a threat to their authority.
Parents mistrust the Internet and television because of a more general unease about having to cope with external influences that bear upon their children. Many of these influences – television advertising, consumerism, the Internet – are portrayed as part of a complex new world that is causing parental insecurity.
But adult over-reaction to new fured is a symptom, and not the cause of the problem. Many parents now feel so insecure and fearful of what they do not understand that virtually anything can be turned into a potential childcare crisis.
Fear of children’s safety has come paranoic dominate the parenting landscape. In the advocacy group Families for Freedom interviewed parents. The results make frightening reading. Most of these parents parentting a picture of a world that is hostile territory for their children.
They routinely use pxrenting like ‘scared’ and ‘frightened’ to describe their feelings about their children, particularly where they are outdoors. When the marketing organization System Paranojd surveyed public opinion on the safety of children in Scotland for the BBC inthe results suggested an overwhelming sense that children were far less safe than 20 years ago. Although the incidence of child murder by a stranger in Scotland is very low and has shown no change in the past 20 years, 76 per cent of respondents thought that there had been an increase in such tragedies, while 38 per cent believed that the increase had been ‘dramatic’.
A large majority – 83 per cent – also thought that more children were now being knocked down by traffic on the roads of Scotland.
In fact the incidence of road injuries to parwnoid had decreased by 60 per cent during the previous 20 years. The gap between adult perceptions and the reality of the risks faced by children is confirmed by other studies in frakn Anglo-American world. A survey of US paediatricians carried out in claimed that parental anxieties tended to be significantly out of proportion to many real risks.
The discrepancy between actual and imagined risks was particularly striking in relation to the dramatic issues of child welfare, such as abduction, environmental poisons and cancer. A culture of fear has led parents to restrict their children’s independent outdoor activities.
Ineight out of ten 8-year-olds were allowed to walk to school alone. Now it is fewer than one in ten. At age II almost every child used to walk, now it is down to 55 per cent and falling.
A report published by the Children’s Play Council in argued that children had become virtual prisoners in their own homes. Paranoid parenting does not only restrict children’s freedom to play. It also diminishes the creative aspect of play. There is considerable evidence that children are more creative when their parents are not around to monitor their behaviour.
A study by Dale Grubb and Alicia Snyder concludes that adult supervision turns play into a structured activity and that this weakens youngsters’ drive to experiment. Unfortunately, the concept of unsupervised children’s activity – what used to be called play – is now defined framk child professionals as a risk.
Restricting children’s outdoor activity has predictable consequences for their development, and a sedentary lifestyle is inevitably bad for their health. Research has linked the decline in British children’s fitness to the decrease in the amount of time they spend walking and cycling.
The First National Travel Survey reported a fall of about 20 per cent in the annual distance walked and 27 per cent in the distance cycled by children between and An average British schoolgirl now walks for less than seven minutes a day.