Compared with 50 years ago there have been three massive changes:

Children have more money. They have more leisure. New technologies.

Teenagers

The effect of all this is children now inhabit a new youth culture, more separate than ever from adults. But modern culture involves three serious dangers. It encourages:

  • The view that to be happy you have to be wealthy and beautiful.
  • A confliction and often-violent model of human relationships.
  • Physical inactivity, eating, drinking and smoking to excess.

New technologies have also brought serious problems. On average children spend 17 hours a week watching television. They use the computer or play video games for four hours a week. Eight out of ten 5-16 year olds have their own TV; Seven in ten have internet access. Two out of every three have their own mobile phone.

With £3 billion a year to spend, children attract massive advertising. By the age of two children handle a new toy differently according to whether they have seen it on TV the previous day. By the age of three they prefer an advertised brand to another. Much advertising is good fun but some advertisers explicitly exploit peer pressure.

The more a child is exposed to TV and the internet the more materialistic they become, the worse they relate to their parents and the worse their mental health. The way firms are promoting sugary, salty high-fat foods to children is leading to rising levels of obesity. If current trends continue, by 2023 there will be a 54% rise in Type II diabetes and by 2051 life expectancy will fall five years.

The most dangerous aspect of media content is the lurch to more and more violence, which we know can breed violent behaviours and increased mental illness. The biggest problem though is alcohol, with a quarter of 16-19 year olds now engaging in hazardous drinking.

Children's evidence

People at school look down their nose at you if you don’t have an IPod or whatever.
- 14 year old girl

I thing what all children need for a good life is lots of sport to keep them fit and well.
- 9-year-old boy

Lots of people eat junk food and they have no time to do exercise to burn it off.
- 10 year old

Read The Children's Society's view on lifestyle.