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01Mar18m About Furedi's book

14th March 2001

Scared silly

[...] In particular, what he noticed was that children were no longer left to their own devices. He describes it as a "colonisation" of the world of children by adults. As a consequence, he says, adults not only inhabit but control the lives of children to an alarming and unhealthy extent. For Furedi, whose 1997 book The Culture of Fear examined the way risk is perceived in society, the most obvious manifestation of this control centres on fears about children's safety. The real risks, he argues, are magnified by irrational fears; and so kids' freedom and creativity are being limited.

Our fears are fed by study after alarm-bell-ringing study alerting us to this or that childhood danger. Furedi disputes the idea that most of these studies originate in universities like his own. In fact, he says, many are market-research reports masquerading as more serious analyses. The result, he says, is a generation of parents who believe that their children are at real risk, and who are overreacting in their efforts to protect them.

"When I ask people why they limit their children's activities in a particular way," says Furedi, "they always say, 'I couldn't live with myself if anything happened.' In other words, they're talking about themselves, not about their children."

Furedi thinks that because we now feel we have to take responsibility for every part of our children's lives, we take every threat to their safety too seriously. "It's not worth altering your behaviour and being on red alert for what are relatively small risks," he maintains. "We've got to accept that life contains risks and it's far better to be aware of them than to let them enslave our lives." He says it is naive to argue that the information we are being fed about, say, health risks in pregnancy is widening our choice or improving our parenting; in fact they often lead to legally enforced conformity. "Take the US, where in some areas pregnant women can be arrested for drinking in public," he says. "What begins as advice ends up as coercion."

Furedi concedes that there may be a positive aspect to parents being more involved in the lives of their children, but adds that: "The danger is, it becomes compulsive. What starts as involvement becomes this infinite process, and you lose the ability to draw a line between what your children should be doing on their own and what adults should be doing."

[...] the bottom line is: if we stopped trying so hard, we would make a better job of bringing up our kids - and if we ignored most of the advice we are bombarded with, we would do a better job still.


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