Kids have rights

A UNICEF report in 2007 ranked Britain last for childhood quality of life in a survey of 21 economically advanced nations. Why? Seen and not heard?

A UNICEF report in 2007 ranked Britain last for childhood quality of life in a survey of 21 economically advanced nations. Why? Seen and not heard?

Seeing the world through the eyes of two teenage sons, it seems even being seen is too much these days. Seen in public, congregating. Seen outside, playing. Seen in shops, from which they are banned. Seen on their skateboards. Seen on their bicycles. The list goes on. 'Kids will be kids' - recently heard said about youngsters breaking into cars. No. That is now what kids naturally do, but as a society we seem content to have a go at the youngsters amongst us.

Young teenagers are at a stage in life when they need positive social contact with adults outside their immediate family to develop social skills and confidence. They need encouragement, mentoring, positive social interactions to mature into responsible and happy adults. At what point did they all morph into hooded, menacing youth?

Lest we forget - kids have rights too. The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. It states that Children have: the right to life, survival and development and the right to have their views respected, and to have their best interests considered at all times.

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In a new housing development in Portishead, children's best interests seem to have been designed entirely out. In a residential road with no pavements, our 12 year-old son was almost hit by a car. He was standing two to three feet from the wall of the house. Did the driver apologise, check the child was OK? No. What they did was call the police. The police subsequently came round and very politely explained that as the speed limit in this residential road is 30 mph, it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure the children are not obstructing the passage of cars. The fact that there are no pavements, that the houses open directly onto this road, that this was just round a corner and so the driver had no visibility, was irrelevant. The law is the law.

We do not blame the poor police officer. What could he do? He blamed the developers, who sacrificed space for financial gain. He blamed the council, who passed the plan. Perhaps the developers or the planners did not have children. We might call it 'institutional childism'. The design of this housing development inadvertently affects the safety and quality of life of children disproportionately more than that of adults. If children were an ethnic group, it would be illegal.

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More worryingly though are the societal attitudes this incident illuminates. The law was surely always on the side of the king of the road, but it would have been unthinkable in the not-too-distant past to threaten the law on people whose children were playing in a residential road just outside their own front door. people used to just drive carefully and keep an eye out for youngsters. What happened to our collective duty of care? What happened to our ability to take pleasure in the young people amongst us?

Whilst as a society we are facing a tidal wave of childhood obesity and a raft of initiatives to address this issue are being rolled out, the physical and societal arenas in which children and young people can freely express themselves physically and socially, to become responsible members of society, are growing ever more restricted.

Perhaps we need to revive our sense of fun, our enjoyment of the follies and energy and enthusiasm of youth, the harmless pranks, the tomfoolery, the playfulness. Maybe that would enhance quality of life of all our lives, not just that of the 'hooded youth'.

In Scandinavian countries - which get top marks for quality of life at any age - residential road are riddled with signs reading: 'Drive carefully, children playing'.


Finisterre Parade, Portishead

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