Escaping the Cotton Wool Cage

Written by: Guest Contributor

Published: Jun 7, 2013

According to the media, everything is in crisis. From education to parenting to the institution of childhood, it’s hard to avoid the statistical evidence that tells us we’re all doomed.  Studies say that parents are paranoid and overtly protective. They say that parents don’t let their children play outside, that they wrap them in cotton wool and that modern parenting is ruining children’s brains . Parents are also to blame for self-esteem issues, bad grades and just about anything that negatively affects a child’s life.

And then there’s childhood, which we are led to believe is also in crisis. Children are unhappy, world weary and burdened by the need to be good at everything. They are addicted to gadgets, they never eat their vegetables and they don’t know what an owl is.

The impact of crisis parenting is made all the more critical by the fact that childhood is – by all accounts – over. So how can you possibly be a good parent if the very foundation of childhood has already been destroyed? According to Professor Mary-Jane Kehi this is a “construct led by media hysteria and compounded by a loss of confidence amongst parents.”

In other words, the media is putting parents under a lot of pressure.

This has created a cycle that relentlessly promotes aspirational parenting but never rewards anyone for achieving it. And yet, how can you support the assumption that childhood is not what it used to be? It’s impossible to measure the true impact modern parenting has on the individual child. Is it not more than likely that most children are totally oblivious to the anxiety that surrounds their every hiccup? Is their quality of life not vastly superior to any other time in history?

This moral panic isn’t coming from children; they haven’t got the foggiest clue that childhood is anything other than what it should be.

It’s important to remember that the institution of childhood (and, in turn, the
surveillance of parenthood) is a relatively new concept. Before the turn of the
century, children were adults in miniature. They worked as often and as hard as
the rest, their innocence was not protected and their education was not
essential. So how, in little over one hundred years, have we become
over-wrought with this anxiety?

As with most things in contemporary culture, it’s the internet’s fault. “Hypermedia”
has been created by the inconceivable rise of the net, increasing everyone’s
exposure to advertising, news and communication. This, in turn, gives rise to virtual
and viral anxiety. After all, it’s never been easier to share your ideas and your
concerns with the rest of the world and this inevitably feeds the
fear-mongering mill of the media.

Despite the fact we’ve placed children on a pedestal of purity, this position is constantly
being compromised by 24-hour rolling news. From child trafficking to kidnapping
to the recent glut of scandals in the UK, breaking news has created a culture
of crisis that has deteriorated constructs like childhood. No wonder parents
are paranoid!

It’s an uneasy irony. We are at risk of pressing the red button on childhood because
we’re convinced that we already have. But what’s at risk if we don’t release
our kids from this “cotton wool cage”? Now is the time to give children the
freedom to pretend, to play and to participate. Let them explore. Let them spend a few days away from home. Give them the privilege of independence.

Ultimately, by taking a step back and limiting your own access to the media, you have a
much better chance of raising well-rounded, confident kids. If not, social
anxiety is sure to rub off and that, undoubtedly, would be the biggest crisis
of all.

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