Toxic Childhood

Posted in: Book Reviews
by Sue Palmer

Orion Books £12.99

I recommend this book to every parent, prospective parent, teacher, journalist and policy maker. Its author, Sue Palmer, a former teacher, is now a writer, broadcaster and consultant on the education of young children. Given her long experience, she pulls no punches. Today’s children are as bright and full of promise as ever, but in today’s world much of their potential risks being stifled by the “toxic” environment in which they are being raised.

Among some of the toxic substances she lists are TV’s in bedrooms, poor quality food, lack of exercise and outdoor play. There’s a domino effect here and the next things to tumble down are empathy with others and communication skills.

Finally, there’s pester power for endless material goods which give then status among their peers, but which leads to even more pressure on their exhausted parents to work harder and longer to pay for these, so that they spend even less time together.

As well as an introduction and conclusion, there are 10 chapters in this book. They each unravel a particular subject, such as language, sleep, manners, the electronic village etc. The author shows us the pitfalls, where modern life can impede a child’s progress, where we ourselves in danger of going wrong and what we can do in practical terms to avoid the problems.

There’s also a wealth of references to other relevant books, websites and research findings, all of which not only help us as parents, but also as campaigners for a better deal for families. Sue Palmer is a realist who points out the dangers but at the same time does not believe in a siege mentality. She welcomes television, modern technology and the speed of communication, but warns us that we must remain their master.

She also holds up a mirror to us, modern parents, for the very characteristics that make the West so rich – competitiveness, commitment to work and the capacity to embrace change – also create citizens ill-adapted to bring up children. And so they end up, as she says, “loving not too wisely, and far, far too well”. She advocates an “authoritative” style of parenting, best described as warm but firm. This requires time, confidence and knowledge.

And her final hint is for us to detoxify our own lives so that, once again, we may find the time that we need in order to become the wise, firm but kind parents that our children need.

Anna Lines

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