‘It wasn’t like that in my day…’

‘It wasn’t like that in my day!’ mothers would holler down the phone to their friends, as we sat playing solitaire in the background. ‘All these computer games, turning their eyes square – back when I was a child it was all fresh air and skipping ropes.’ Yet 15 years later, I find myself doing the one thing we all dread, turning into my mother. ‘Definitely wasn’t like that in my day,’ I mumble, shaking my head in disapproval, as a group of 12-year-old boys walk past with jeans around knees, beer bottles in hands and Blackberry’s glued to their ears.

Yet it’s inevitable, with each new generation comes more advanced technology, fashion choices we were never able to make as children, and changes in attitude that bring out the parent in all of us. The question is, are these advances doing todays younger generation more harm than good?

According to a recent survey, approximately 10 per cent of 12-year-olds say they have consumed alcohol at least once. By age 13 that number doubles, and by age 15, approximately 50 per cent have had at least one drink.

Neil Pollock, 33, has been teaching English at The Littlehampton Academy for the last eleven years. He says we shouldn’t be too quick to judge, as there is often more than meets the eye on such issue. “I think the media does play a part in younger children wanting to act grown up; something like the TV show Skins was very influential to teenagers of a certain vintage. Also, I think that the Think 25 campaign has been really damaging in terms of its impact on the way teenagers drink. When I was growing up, it was more than possible to go to your local pub at 16 and have a couple of drinks with your friends.

“Everyone knew where the pub that would serve you was, but because you only had a teenager’s financial means, it wasn’t like you got drunk or anything. Making ID strict means that kids are driven into covert drinking at house parties or in parks, which is bad news for safety and so on.”

Neil also believes that you can’t generalise when it comes to the behaviour of children and young teenagers. ‘Whether children are growing up too fast these days depends on a lot of things. Some do, some don’t. “Kids grew up too fast when I was at school too. I think maybe four or five girls in my school year fell pregnant in year 11, and that was in 1996, so it’s not like someone invented sex yesterday or anything.”

One noticeable difference between a 12-year-old today and one from 15 years ago, is the amount of technology and video games they are surrounded by. Back in 2003 when I myself was twelve, I was lucky if my parents allowed me to play Super Mario on my older sister’s original gameboy. Back then it was unimaginable to think that someone my age would one day own multiple games consoles, high-tech mobile phones and flatscreen televisions in their own rooms.

Rebecca White is also an English teacher at secondary level, and has been teaching for the last nine years. She currently works at Oriel High School in Maidenbower, and says the advance in new technology makes her anxious. “I would say that about 75 percent of my year sevens have a Facebook account or some other form of social networking site and they definitely all have mobile phones. But I am worried about the amount of personal information students place on said social networking sites – some of them don’t realise how easy it is to access and manipulate certain details. I also worry about older students who have documented their teenage years on YouTube – do you want people to witness your drunken mistakes three/five/ten years on?”

In terms of how year sevens behave and act today as opposed to nine years ago when she started teaching, Rebecca says she can clearly see changes. “I think that in terms of attitude, year sevens seem to be a lot more confident, sometimes to the point of arrogance, and can be quite confrontational and rude. I also think that over the years, I’ve seen more year sevens do things such as truanting lessons or swearing at teachers that I would normally associate with older year groups. They certainly have less respect for teachers and are not as ‘scared’ of being in trouble any more.

“I am having to specify if I expect homework to be done using their brains or if I am happy to accept ‘cut and pasted’ work.  As I said before, all of them have mobile phones and this can be a distraction in a lesson. I’m finding that students are more disengaged in year seven than before.  Students in year seven were traditionally quite keen to show off their creativity and engaged with the work but this seems to be significantly less apparent now.”

When asked why it was she thought children were beginning to act this way from such an early age, she said a lot of it stems from the child’s home life and the way in which he or she is raised. “They are exposed to pornography, violence and peer pressure at a much earlier age and often in stronger representations than previously.  I also think that the way in which some families are set up, that children are being expected to take on roles within the home. For example: carer, babysitter, cook etc, and all from a younger age especially as parents are having to work more in these difficult times.

“I am also concerned about the fact that more and more children’s programmes seem to focus on characters who are willfully defiant and confrontational towards authority and this seems to be an attitude that is developing amongst some students today.”

The adults a child grows up with, whether that’s parents or siblings, have the potential to be the most influential people on that young persons life. A study done by Children’s Health has shown that children begin to model harmful behaviours at a very early age, just from what they observe in their everyday life and surroundings. In terms of alcohol consumption and smoking, children were proven to be four times more likely to ‘purchase’ said products for a fictional weekly food shop, if they had parents who smoked and drank at least once a week.

On the other hand, some parents are heading in the complete opposite direction and choosing to raise their children in the healthiest way they see fit.

Louise Arnett, 39, from West Sussex, is mother to three young children: Emily, six, Poppy, four and Thomas, two, and has made the choice with her husband to raise all three of them as vegetarians. She says the main reason for doing so is because they themselves are vegetarian and thought it would be easier to do the same with their children. But what does she say to the critics who suggest children need meat in their diet?

“We did look into it carefully beforehand to make sure it was ok for them. I got information from the health visitor which suggested what they should eat and I bought a ‘vegetarian for kids’ book which went into a lot of detail about how to keep them healthy.

“Interestingly the book suggested being vegetarian was actually better for them as vegetarians are 30 per cent less likely to suffer heart disease, 40 per cent less likely to get cancer and are less prone to diet related diabetes, obesity and kidney disease, gallstones and high blood pressure too. Certain potentially fatal diseases, such as CJD and E-coli food poisoning, are avoided if you are vegetarian. This reinforced our desire to keep them vegetarian, although we did keep fish in their diet.”

Louise believes that by choosing her children’s eating habits from birth, it will enable them to make the healthiest decisions regarding food and diet as they grow older and more independent. She also says that the way she was raised personally has definitely affected the way she is bringing her own children up.

“I was raised in a way that meant I respected my parents and I knew it was important to go to school and be honest etc, and I feel I raise the kids the same. I’d like to think I am giving the kids more opportunities than I had as a child. I’d have loved to have done ballet like my daughters and had swimming lessons like all three, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do these things.

“I’d also encourage mine to go to university. Again I did not have the opportunity and have had to get my university education part time whilst raising a family and working. I’d like them to have the fun I had as a child too. I can remember many days out playing all over the place with my friends or neighbours children, hours of adult free fun, but I don’t think we live in a society which allows that now. We are more likely to take them out to places or they play at home.”

When asked that vital question of whether she believes children are growing up too fast these days, she agreed. “Yes, for a few reasons. Children’s television tends to be either for babies and toddlers (CBeebies) and then for those around nine or ten upwards (CBBC or CITV) with programmes like Tracy Beaker which really is a bit too grown up for someone of Emily’s age, and yet there is nothing in-between.

“Also we are more cautious about letting kids just go off and play like we did as kids. We used our imaginations more and played with not a lot really, but now we keep them at home more and they spend more time in adult company than we used to.

“Also toys are growing children up so fast – the kids have Innotab’s which are similar to iPads which are ok but many of their friends have real iPads already and watch things like YouTube too freely. Poppy and Thomas have a baby Annabell which is a doll which babbles, cries etc. and they play with her like she is a really baby. I guess I did that same with a simple doll as a child but the difference is that their doll actually cries when they might not be playing with her and they have a sense of responsibility for caring for her which makes them a bit more grown up. Thomas is two and he calls himself her Daddy already!

“The school seem to treat the kids as little adults at times also and they do expect quite a lot of homework from them from an early age. Sometimes I think kids have too much responsibility.”

With teenage pregnancy statistics showing that it is on the rise as much as 40 per cent in some areas of London last year, I wanted to speak to a teenage mother and see whether being a young mum has affected the way her children have been brought up. Most would assume that a teenager’s baby would be brought up in the newest fashions and fully capable of using a mobile phone by the time it was three. However, Maria James, 21, from Littlehampton, says she’s determined to bring up her four-year-old daughter Ella, the same way she was raised.

“I got pregnant when I was 16 years old and still in school, but I can hand-on-heart say Ella is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Even before having her I knew I didn’t want to raise my children in front of a computer screen, or allow them to grow up too quickly and be glued to the internet, so I always make sure Ella reads or does arts and crafts with me over playing on my phone or watching TV. I don’t know about other young mums but I do feel there is pressure to bring her up the right way and not let my age affect that. Because I’m young I do feel like I am constantly being judged, criticized and put into a negative category that other teenage mums have created.”

Maria too agrees that children today are having to grow up too quickly, even going as far to say ‘it scares me to the point that I wonder why have I brought a child into this world.’

On average a child spends 180 days a year in education. Schools are up there with their homes as the most influential environment they have, which is why I wanted to speak to someone just starting out in the teaching profession and see how their views differed to someone with more experience.

Alex Sieber, 24, from Chichester, is currently in his final year of university where he is training to become a primary school teacher. He has recently finished his three-month-placement at local primary school Arundel Church of England, and says that teaching is far more inclusive nowadays compared to when he was younger. “Children are more engaged in group work and the focus on individual child centered approaches have come to the forefront. Within lessons there is a greater focus on shared learning and working with peers in groups to plan, write and peer assess each other.”

Alex also mentioned how the health and safety guidelines have become much stricter over the years, and the way children are so restricted will eventually do them more harm than good. “Yes we want children to be safe but the irony is if we wrap them up in cotton wool and then send them into the real world they are far more at risk!”

“If put in a situation which is dangerous or could hurt them which they’ve never come across on their own before, then they will have no idea how to deal with it and therefore could have serious implications. For example if you never teach a child how to cross a road and then one day send them out on their own, they may just walk out into the road because they have never been given the opportunity to have the risk of crossing the road in the first place.

“Also, by allowing children not to do anything under these restrictions prevents them from experiencing what it is to be a child in their natural environment – a few scratches and bruises will not permanently harm them. Now health and safety is a useful thing and it is important to make sure children are safe and protected but there has to be a balance between risk and safety, and schools should be allowed to operate it on a basis of common sense safety and prevent the child serious harm while allowing them to take risks in a safe environment.”

It seems to me that in this day and age, the next generation of adults are growing up already accustomed to the things we had to discover first hand. No longer is the Nokia 3310 the best phone to have, or ‘snake’ the most popular game to play. And to me it’s sad that children today will not be taking pleasure in those small things, but instead looking for the next most popular, most violent Xbox game on the market. No longer is the stereotypical ‘shy’ year seven with his backpack too high and shirt buttoned all the way to the top with us, but instead in his place, a slightly cockier version who’s already taking on the traits of someone much older. Just like CDs replaced cassettes and DVDs replaced video tapes, this invasion of molly-coddled, texting-tweeters have come into our world and taken away the innocence of a Sunday afternoon game of solitaire. Farewell childhood, it was nice knowing you.

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