Posted: 08 March 2011

Are we wrapping our children in cotton wool?

This was the question posed by the Daily Mail in a piece last week (Tuesday 1 March) about our well-being work. The article was headlined 'Children left in misery by cotton wool parenting' and went on to quote our well-being research, which has found that choice and family are the two factors that have the greatest impact on children's well-being.

The Daily Mail piece compared Joanna Lumley's recent claim that children have a slack moral code and need better guidance with our own position of proclaiming the need for children to have a greater degree of freedom and responsibility. Heroic Ghurkha-defender she may be, but on this subject we differ greatly. I look at our projects up and down the country and see children achieving amazing things. To label children generally with the brush of having lapsed morals does not ring true with the attitudes of the children who we work with every day of the week. 

The debate also questioned how much we should protect our children. It is an ongoing debate, one that the Good Childhood Inquiry examined in great depth. As a mother, I face challenges every day, such as how late to let my kids out and whether to let them on the tube alone. I believe that it is essential to strike the right balance between our collective and parental instincts to protect children from being hurt, injured or harmed on the one hand, and ensuring their freedom to take some degree of physical and emotional risks in their explorations with friends on the other. Children tell us they want choice and freedom – it’s time to start listening to them.

Elaine Hindal is Director of the Campaign for Childhood Division at The Children's Society

By Elaine Hindal - Leadership team

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It's something I struggle with, too. I know my daughter is smart enough to be out by herself, and I know 'stranger danger' is a greatly exaggerated risk, but it doesn't make letting go any easier. I recognise this as my problem, not hers, and it saddens me that so many people are unable to give children credit for being able to make their own sound judgement. Children are very smart, very adaptable, and have on the whole a far better moral code than many adults.

Interesting. I will be facing quite a few of those challenges in the near future. We live in a society where scare stories are spread very easily and are made to seem the norm when they couldn't be further from the truth. The media is to blame and the Mail is certainly up there when it comes to spreading these types of stories.

The question we should be asking is how do we learn from other parents and their experiences so we can give our children the freedom they need so its a happy medium for all involved?