October 25th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's desperate gamble

EDITORIAL: Can Australia weather the storm?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Defending Australia's independence

CHINA: Milk contamination scandal: tip of the iceberg

NEW ZEALAND: November 8 election: Helen Clark's last hurrah?

FAMILY: Will paid maternity leave help mothers?

VICTORIA: Behind Victoria's radical new abortion law

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Can the US adjust to changing world realities?

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Barbarossa II / Our friends

EDUCATION: When the wrong answer is 'right'

SCHOOLS: Minister Gillard backs faulty ranking system

SRI LANKA: Plight of persecuted Tamils worsens

TAIWAN: Ball in Beijing's court for Taiwan's WHO entry

EUROPE: Germany backs Russia against Georgia, Ukraine

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Health and safety obsessions stifle childhood

BOOKS: BLUE PLANET IN GREEN SHACKLES: What is Endangered: Climate or Freedom? by Vaclav Klaus

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Health and safety obsessions stifle childhood

by Sue Palmer

News Weekly, October 25, 2008
Over the past 25 years there has been an enormous change in young children's leisure experiences. Even if parents would like to give their children more freedom, they are prevented by public opinion - any child seen out unaccompanied these days is considered at risk or a possible threat to public safety.

So for most 21st-century children, the word "play" doesn't mean outdoor, physical pursuits or indoor creativity: it means sitting down at a PlayStation, mindlessly gazing at television, or communicating virtually with friends via Bebo or MSN.

Just as health and safety regulations have stifled the excitement of learning at school, preoccupation with public safety, endless regulation and adults' desire for tidy, orderly communities have helped stifle children's leisure time - and a high-tech, consumer culture has provided an indoor sedentary substitute.

Children in Britain spend an average of five hours, 20 minutes a day on screen-based activities.

Now think what's been lost. All the most essential lessons of life - the personal, social and emotional lessons that make us functioning human beings - are caught rather than taught.

Social competence, self-confidence and resilience, commonsense understanding of the world - not to mention physical health and fitness - all come from being out there in the real world.

If children don't get these vital first-hand experiences, we can't be surprised that many end up as fragile or anti-social teenagers, either risk-averse themselves, or ready to take excessive risks, because they're unable to make sensible judgments.

- extract from Sue Palmer, "Where did childhood in Britain go wrong?", The Telegraph (UK), October 3, 2008.

URL: www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/10/03/do0303.xml

The author is a former headteacher and author of Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging our Children and What We Can Do About It (London: Orion Books, 2007). Paperback: 384 pages.

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