The Save Childhood Movement has been launched in response to the increasing level of multidisciplinary concern about the current erosion of childhood and the declining health and wellbeing of children in the UK.
Children in the modern world are currently subject to unprecedented cultural and environmental tensions. From the downward pressures of the schooling system, to the changing nature of their local streetscapes and the extraordinary advancement of digital technology, their rights and freedoms have been progressively and substantially eroded. A whole host of recent research reports have shown children in the UK to be some of the most pressurised and unhappy in the world.
The 2007 UNICEF Child Well-being Report put the UK at the bottom of the league table of 20 OECD countries. And this was despite the fact that many of the other countries were economically poorer. In 2009 UNICEF then followed this up with a further report looking at the commercialisation of children in Sweden, Spain and the UK. The children in all three countries told researchers that their happiness was dependent on spending time with stable families and having plenty of things to do, especially playing outdoors, rather than owning technology or branded clothes. The research showed, however, that parents in the UK love their children, but they lose out on time together as a family due in part to long working hours. They then try to make up for this by buying their children technology and clothes. Consumer culture in the UK contrasted starkly with Sweden and Spain, where family time is prioritised, children and families are under less pressure to own material goods and children have greater access to activities out of the home.
In 2009 the Good Childhood Inquiry reported that children in the UK were suffering an ‘epidemic of mental illness’, with significant increases between 1974 and 1999 in the number suffering from conduct, behavioural and emotional problems. One in ten children aged between five and 16 currently have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder – that’s more than a million children – about 35,000 children in England are being prescribed anti-depressants and the UK has one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe, at 400 per 100,000 population. The most recent Children’s Society Good Childhood Report showed that at any one time more than half a million children in the UK are unhappy with their lives.
The movement aims to identify and highlight the areas of most concern, to protect children from all inappropriate developmental and cultural pressures and to fight for their natural developmental rights. It also aims to provide a critical platform for dialogue and debate and to unite those individuals and organisations already calling for change. More than twenty-five eminent advisors are giving their time to the initiative and people are now being invited to join the new members network and action groups.
The movement was delighted to see the National Trust’s own interest in ‘nature-deficit disorder. It is indebted to the naturalist Stephen Moss for providing access to the very comprehensive research database of his ‘Natural Childhood’ research report that was recently commissioned by the trust.
Wendy Ellyatt is co-founder and Director of the Save Childhood Movement
UNICEF 2007 Child well-being report
UNICEF and IPSOS 2009 Report on commercialization and child wellbeing
The Children’s Society 2009 Good Childhood Inquiry
The Children’s Society 2012 Good Childhood Inquiry
Office of National Statistics: Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain
2012 Natural Childhood Report