Our children’s freedom is being curtailed

In the run up to the Convention, we’re going to be running a series of short blogs from each member of the Convention team. Here Claire Preston, our Production Manager, talks about why she’s involved in the Convention.

Claire Preston: Like most women of my generation with children I have given a lot of careful thought about how best to balance the demands (and pleasures) of childcare and work. So it was galling to witness last week’s easy targeting of working women in the search to explain the unhappiness of our children. My involvement in the Convention is driven by a belief that mothers are a long way down the list of what ails young people and indeed all of us. 

How a society treats its children is a good measure of its health and sanity and ours is pretty sickly if recent research (see e.g. here and here) is to be believed. Our children are unhappy, disaffected and stressed. The search for who to blame wearyingly often settles on bad parents. But this is to miss a much greater threat. We should be focusing attention on our authoritarian government, its contempt for true democracy and its promiscuous data practices.  

A teenage friend of my children was recently describing how, in the Suffolk town where she lives, the police relentlessly break up any public gatherings of young people. This is one case of a much wider phenomenon. Some young people are clearly out of order. But to treat all young people as thugs and vandals is a counter-productive over-reaction. It’s a pattern which the government is repeating in many areas from terrorism, to gang culture, to Baby P. Legitimate public concern is stoked into widespread fear, which in turn is used as a licence to curtail the rights and freedoms of whole categories of citizens – innocent and guilty alike.  

The same pattern lies behind the government’s gathering and storing of data. The Climbie case is cited as one of the main reasons behind the creation of ContactPoint, the database on which the government plans to put details of every child in England and Wales. Thankfully this Orwellian nightmare has been knocked back by concerns over how to restrict access to what would be a child abuser’s A to Z. The DNA database is there ostensibly to help solve crime and yet contains samples of over 100,000 innocent children. Form 696 is an initiative that compels licensees of a small live music venues to supply police in advance with a list of details of all performers and information on the target audience. 

Not only is this unprecedented control and monitoring alienating young people but voting figures show they have little faith in mainstream politics delivering an answer. Young people are not fooled by our synthetic democracy which pays lip service to engagement while quietly centralising power and skirting parliamentary decision making. Citizenship lessons were meant to build young peoples’ understanding of and belief in our political system. But kids pick up on the fact that Citizenship classes are underfunded and poorly staffed. The message getting through may be rather more accurate than that which the government hoped to impart. 

Just possibly, children subjected to this sterile instruction in school and ever-tightening constraints on their freedoms outside it will kick against it in a productive fashion and breathe life back into the openness of our society – but the omens are not good.  After all, their parents are mostly taking it lying down.  Unless we respond vigorously now, our children will face a much more entrenched problem.

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