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Childhood's Lost Idyll

Melanie Phillips

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We British are, in so many ways, the most fortunate of people. We live in unprecedented prosperity, during the most developed age for mankind and in one of the most advanced and free societies on the planet. Yet the evidence suggests that our children are experiencing an unprecedented degree of misery and distress.

Research by the Nuffield Foundation has found that over the past 25 years, the mental health of teenagers has sharply declined, with emotional problems such as anxiety and depression leaping upwards by as much as 70 per cent. One out of every five fifteen year-old girls suffers from an emotional difficulty, while behavioural problems are increasing among boys.

When all this is added to other clinical data showing increased rates of suicides, eating disorders and self-harm, not to mention high levels of juvenile disorder, drug abuse and binge drinking, it is clear that our young people are issuing a desperate cry for help.

Some commentators single out the government for blame -- not enough youth services, too many school examinations, not enough jobs or houses. Such explanations are far too superficial. The real causes surely lie very much deeper in the many profound ways in which our society has changed.

Yes, the pressures children feel from our competitive, fast-moving and often bewildering society are indeed formidable. But the crucial factor is that young people are now far less well-equipped to cope with whatever life might throw at them. Our society has progressively knocked away all the props that once provided support and reassurance, both at home and further afield.

It is, above all, at home where the most serious damage has been done to children's vital support systems. For it is within the family that children learn how to negotiate their way through the world, and from where they draw the confidence to do so only if they are firmly anchored in networks of security and love.

But these networks have been increasingly shattered by the fragmentation of family life. While some parents manage to shield their children from the worst effects of family breakdown, in general the damage this has done to children is incalculable.

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the British newspaper The Daily Mail.

Read the entire article on the Melanie Phillips website.

Posted: 9/15/04



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