Thursday, 3 November 2011

'Feral' children?

Today Barnardos published a survey of 2,000 adults about their opinions of children and young people. 44% agreed with a statement that some young people are 'becoming feral'; 47% think young people are angry, violent and abusive; and 1 in 4 people believe children are beyond help by the age of 10. The survey echoes  findings of a similar one conducted a few years ago, also by Barnardos. Sir Al Aynesley-Green, the former Children's Commissioner for England said on BBC Radio 4 that as a country we don't like children much.

This word 'feral' is interesting. Historically it has meant abandoned children, for example growing up in the forest, sometimes brought up by animals. People have been fascinated by them to try to discover which human abilities are 'innate' and which are learned from human contact. More recently feral children are street children like those Children North East was founded to work with 120 years ago. Jamal Malik, the hero of 'Slumdog Millionaire' is a 'feral' child. In literature two famous 'feral' children are Peter Pan and Mowgli, the appeal of both is their 'natural' state - innocence and daring, unimpeded by the demands of ordinary life, especially adult life.

The English have a complicated relationship with childhood. On the one hand we love the innocence of it and the hanker for the beauty and energy of youth (as exemplified by fashion models and footballers); but on the other hand we are terrified that unless 'controlled' they will become lawless and violent. We tend to regard them as 'other', nothing to do with us, society or possibly even the human race.

In reality children and young people are 'junior citizens' as much as elderly people are senior citizens. We don't expect either to be economically productive, so why treat them differently? Senior Citizens are still entitled to vote, children and young people have no political or spending power of their own; therefore they actually deserve more care by society not less. Think about it - a big part of the economy (adult's jobs) depends on children and young people  - their health and education; how much families spend on their clothing, food, toys and activities. And over half of all young people do some form of voluntary work, a far bigger proportion than any other age group - they are the backbone of the so-called 'Big Society'

So let's get over this peculiar English obsession with the so called 'savagery' of children and start valuing them for who they are and the contribution they make, after all they are our future.

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