Toxic Childhood – Toxic Childhood is where rapid technological and cultural changes cause psychological and physical damage to children
The concept of Toxic Childhood is one of the main criticisms of the March of Progress view of chilhood – it is especially critical of the idea that more education and products for children are necessarily good for them.
The Term Toxic Childhood was invented by Sue Palmer, a former primary school headteacher, in her 2006 book: ‘Toxic Childhood: How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It.
In the book, Palmer argues that a toxic mix of technological and cultural changes are having a negative impact on the development of a growing number of children, and she outlines six main ways in which childhhood has become increasingly toxic over the years.
Six ways in which childhood is increasingly toxic
A few years ago Sue Palmer’s Web Site had a very clear summary of six social changes which were damaging children’s early development, listed below….
- The decline of outdoor play – linked to increased childhood obesity
- The commercialisation of childhood – linked to children being exploited by advertisers
- The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood – which reduces independence
- The decline of listening, language and communication skills – because of shortened attention spans
- Screen saturation – reduces face to face interaction
- Tests, targets and education – increases anxiety among children.
Palmer’s Web Site used to be well organised, and used to have a lot of links to recent research on Toxic Childhood..
Unfortunately the Web Site has now changed, and the free information (arguably like childhood) has disappeared, and it now just links to her books, which you have to pay for.
I guess times are hard for adults as well as children. I imagine 15 years on from all the initial excitement, and with the publications industry changing, there’s probably a lot less money in being an independent researcher/ author than there use to be, especially if you’re used to a Head Teacher’s salary!
In the absence of the free research links, it would be a useful activity for students to take one of the six aspects of toxic childhood above and conduct their own research, to evaluate the extent to which these social changes are damaging children’s development, or not!
More Recent Books on Toxic Childhood
Sue Palmer has published two more books, focusing on boys, in 2007, and on girls, in 2014.
Criticisms of the view that childhood has become increasingly toxic
- This could be an example of an adult ‘panicking’ about technological changes, maybe children are more adaptable than Palmer thinks?
- Taking the longer term view, childhood may well be more commercialised today, but surely children are better off today as consumers rather than producers (child labourers).
- This article by Catherine Bennett is worth a read – it reminds us that ‘in the good old days we just had to endure beatings’, although in fairness to Sue Palmer I don’t think she actually romanticizes the past, she’s really just pointing out the new and different problems children now face in a post-modern age.
Find out More
Visit Sue Palmer’s Web Site – Palmer has published several books on child development and education, her most recent publication argues for raising the school starting age to seven!