What is happening to our children and childhood? Three books which highlight some of the issues

About 18 months ago I was sent three books from the USA to put out to colleagues to review. Each of these books was based on a selection of chapters written by different academics and professionals and edited by Sharna Olfman. Sharna is Associate Professor of Psychology at Point Park College and a partner in the National Alliance for Childhood.All three books were highlighting the different situations which the USA, as a society, was inflicting upon their children and childhood and which were harmful to their development. Whilst I found many of the arguments and the scenarios they raised rather depressing, it was obvious that the Books Editor and the contributors themselves were doing their best to bring these situations to the attention of a wider audience. Let me describe the contents of the books.

Book 1

The first book, published in 2003, is titled All Work and No Play…. How Educational Reforms are Harming our Preschoolers. The educational reforms referred to here are the emphasis placed upon the school system to introduce children to computers and other technology from an early age. The book begins with chapters which highlight the importance of play in the early years, including an article relating to play in Europe.

The second section looks at the impact of modern technology, such as computers, on young children. It includes a description of a four and a half year old whose parents encouraged her to use computers from an early age and who has no problem spending up to four hours a day on the computer, whereas she is only allowed to watch television for half an hour per day! I certainly found this example very depressing.

The author goes on to explore the areas of development which cannot be learned via a computer, such as language development, emotional development, learning to use their senses and social skills. Another author puts forward a thesis that the increase in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) could be a possible consequence of the rise in technologies and the demise of play.

This area has also been researched by Sue Palmer (2006) who looks at this theme of modern technology in reference to the UK and Europe and refers to research carried out in Munich which concluded that “….computers for learning improved school performance, but using them for games and gossip had the opposite effect…” (page 210).

Book 2

The second book, published in 200, is Childhood Lost: How American Culture Is Failing Our Kids. This book looks at the influences of media violence, commercialisation and the impact of fast foods and the sexualization of childhood. As previously, each chapter is written by academics and specialists in the field.

The beginning of the book looks at the importance of the early years environment being conducive to a child’s natural development and their needs, including why parenting matters. The second part of the book looks at the different ways in which the American culture is failing children. It begins with a long chapter which highlights the way in which the needs of parents and parenting are being sidelined, particularly in poor families and families where both parents are working.

The next chapter explores the impact of media violence on young minds and the increasing aggression in some children and fear in others. Further chapters then go on to highlight a number of aspects of commercialisation which have taken over childhood. These include advertisements for ‘must have’ products, fast food, soft drinks and the obesity epidemic which has resulted from these.

Another aspect of commercialisation are the messages put out in the media which encourage children to be come more sexually aware and to look more sexy at a younger age.

Sue Palmer (2006) also makes the case for commercialisation leading to adult fashion being sold to 5 & 6 year old girls (page 235). The final chapter asks the question Where do the Children Play? and explores the reason why “creative, open-ended play is rapidly vanishing from our homes, outdoor spaces, and schools”. A good case is made for the importance of play with references to major theorists such as Erikson, Piaget, Vygotsky etc.

The trend of parents preventing their children from playing outside the home refers to the high level of media coverage pointing out the dangers of children playing outside, alongside the promotion of indoor play using computers and television programmes. Olfman refers to this as the ‘Screen Nation’ which undermines the children’s ability to play.

Book 3

The final book, published in 2006 and titled No Child Left Different, explores the way in which children’s behaviour is labelled and controlled by drugs and other methods.

The way ‘normal’ behaviour is defined differs depending upon the background of the definer. For example, the medical model is one way of defining and dealing with children’s so called ‘abnormal’ behaviour.

There is an interesting chapter which explores the way the environment may have damaging effects upon children’s minds. High levels of lead and toxins from industry along with pesticides and food additives are all likely to have an effect upon children’s neurological development and mental health. Violence in TV programmes and films also affects children’s attitudes, values and behaviour and can lead to aggression and fear.

There is also reference to the media’s effect upon the body image of girls leading to bulimia and anorexia at an early age. Finally the rise in the use of drugs such as Ritalin to control children’s behaviour is now a common part of the medical model.

Yes, these books are depressing; yes, we can see how the points highlighted in each have an effect on children and childhood. However, on the positive side it is better that we are aware of these issues so that children can be protected from them and reclaim their freedom from the media and their right to play.


Olfman S Editor (2003) All Work and No Play………How Educational Reforms are Harming Our Preschoolers Pub: Praeger, Westport CT, USA
Olfman S Editor (2005) Childhood Lost: How American Culture is Failing Our Kids Pub: Praeger, Westport CT, USA
Olfman S Editor (2006) No Child Left Different Pub: Praeger, Westport CT, USA
Palmer S (2006) Toxic Childhood. How the Modern World is Damaging Our Children and What We Can Do About It Pub: Orion London

1 thought on “What is happening to our children and childhood? Three books which highlight some of the issues”

  1. I am searching for evidence to support a new policy I want to put in place at my Early Years Centre. I believe that children should have the opportunities to play and explore the world around them anbd make them ‘streetwise’ at an early age. Computers cannot give them this type of experience and I want to make a policy for my parents and prospective parents to make my statment. Your article and review on the mentioned books is most interesting.
    Thank you


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