Middle-class children are at risk of anxiety disorders because parents shelter them from the harsh reality of life
Youngsters growing up in a ‘paranoid’ culture
which protects them from risk but unable to cope with life’s challenges, warns leading psychologist
Professor Tanya Byron says she is treating an increasing numbers of children with anxiety disorders who lack ‘emotional resilience’ Warning comes as NHS figures reveal rising numbers of children are suffering keyboard strain, but tree-climbing injuries are plummeting

By
Laura Clark, Education Correspondent

PUBLISHED:

15:44 GMT, 5 December 2012

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UPDATED:

15:44 GMT, 5 December 2012

Middle-class children are unable to cope with life's challenges, Professor Tanya Byron has warned

Middle-class children are unable to cope with life's challenges, Professor Tanya Byron has warned

Rising numbers of middle-class children are suffering mental health problems amid a trend for risk-averse parents to raise them ‘in captivity’, a leading psychologist and broadcaster has warned.

Youngsters are growing up in a ‘paranoid’ culture which attempts to protect them from all risk and failure but leaves them unable to cope with life’s challenges, according to Professor Tanya Byron.

She said she was treating increasing numbers of children with anxiety disorders who lack ‘emotional resilience’ and are afraid to take risks and fail.

Professor Byron, who has been a clinical psychologist for 23 years and featured on the BBC series House of Tiny Tearaways, said these children were ‘breaking down’ despite being ‘bright’ and not ‘from backgrounds where you would predict a greater chance of them having emotional, psychological or mental health problems’.

She said: ‘The question is, why In the world of child and adolescent mental health there is a real concern that we have a generation of children and young people who are lacking massively in emotional resilience,’ she said.

Professor Byron said a prevalent ‘risk-averse culture’ was doing children a huge disservice.

‘Children are being raised in captivity,’ she told the teachers’ journal SecEd. ‘When was the last time you saw a kid out enjoying themselves on their bike

‘Children are not really encouraged, supported or taught how to assess, take and manage risk and I think that it is developmentally catastrophic for them.

‘Risk-taking is seen as a very dangerous thing and to be avoided at all costs.

‘We live in a litigious, risk-averse culture where paranoia is rife and we have an education system that is so built around targets and testing that teachers and head teachers are constrained from being innovative.

‘But risk-taking is important because it helps children to accept, understand and embrace failure. The times when you fail are often the most powerful learning experiences one can ever have.’

Professor Byron’s warning comes days after new NHS figures revealed how rising numbers of children are being taken to hospital due to keyboard strain while injuries caused by tree-climbing are plummeting.

The revelation prompted claims that Britain was becoming a nation of ‘battery children’ whose parents are afraid to let them outside.

Professor Byron said IQ was ‘only part of the story’ when it came to predicting success in life, with emotional intelligence and resilience also important.

Her warning comes as NHS figures reveal rising numbers of children are suffering keyboard strain, but tree-climbing injuries are plummeting

Her warning comes as NHS figures reveal rising numbers of children are suffering keyboard strain, but tree-climbing injuries are plummeting

She went on to question whether schools were doing enough to foster the latter in children.’Fundamentally, being successful is more than “what you know”. It’s about the way you use knowledge, how you analyse it, how you synthesise it and how you apply it,’ she said.

She gave examples of highly-successful figures who had been mediocre or worse at school, including Lord Sugar, who left school at 16 to sell car aerials and Sir John Gurdon, who won the Nobel Prize earlier this year for his pioneering work on cloning.

However, at age 15, Sir John was ranked bottom out of 250 boys in biology and his school report – now hanging on his office wall – declared that studying science at university would be ‘a sheer waste of time’.

‘These are people who have become real game-changers in their professions – innovative, entrepreneurial thinkers,’ she said.

‘But if you dig into how they managed to do this, their schooling seems to be the least important aspect of their long-term success.

‘Obviously I’m not saying that we should just let all our kids fail and take them skate-boarding and mountain-climbing instead, but it does question the education system….and the way we teach children.’

She added: ‘When I talk to successful people and ask them about their most cherished memories in terms of how they got to be where they are, it’s usually built around times when they messed up. But boy did that really teach them something. It got them to expand their thinking and their learning and inspired them to push on in the most impressive way.’

Professor Byron expanded on her theme this week during a speech and workshop at a conference staged by head teachers’ network, the SSAT, in Liverpool.

The NHS data looked at the reasons for hospital admissions in England for under-15s over the past ten years.

The number admitted to hospital after falling from a tree fell 49 per cent, from 1,796 cases annually ten years ago to 907 cases.

But at the time, children are almost twice as likely as they were a decade ago to go to hospital for injuries caused by ‘repetitive and strenuous movements’ – such as playing on their computers too long.