This talk was given by Professor Tanya Byron, clinical psychologist, writer, broadcaster and Professor for Public understanding of Science.
As a clinical psychologist Byron is probably best known for her television series' 'Little Angels' and 'House of tiny tearaways', where she gives advice to parents who are struggling with their children's behaviour. Byron gave a humorous introduction to her talk by confessing some of the times where she has been challenged as a parent, including a time where she was struggling to get to sleep and a toddler temper tantrum in a public place.
She then asked the audience to try to remember the place where they had most happy memories of playing as children. Concluding that these places were outside and without the supervision of parents, Byron went on to suggest that many of today's children do not have these experiences. She postulated that as parents with access to 24 hour media constantly portraying horror stories, modern parents have developed a paranoid sense of protectionism towards their children. Parents witness horrific events on the television which they internalise. They then pass this anxiety onto their children.
As a result of this paranoid protectionism, Byron postulates that children are prevented from playing in outside unsupervised situations, which are generally not that risky, so they stay at home and spend a lot of time online, which she believes is ironic, because the online world is significantly more risky.
Byron reports that there has been a significant increase in children referred to child and adolescent mental health services with anxiety disorders. She then proceeded to give some statistics about presentation and prevalence of mental health disorders. In summary 75% of non dementia mental health disorders present by age early 20's, and yet only 6% of government funding is allocated to child and adolescent mental health services.
Byron believes that through overly protecting our children we are denying them the opportunity to take risks and experience failure, which she believes is key to developing emotional resilience. Byron also lays the blame firmly at the feet of the current education system which she states is too focussed on target driven academic achievement and pushes children too hard for too long.
These were hard hitting messages for the parents amongst us and I came away challenged to 'let go' a little and also not to look upon failure so negatively. Byron also balanced the negativity by pointing out that the current generation are displaying many truly positive features, including the fact that they are more socially and politically active and drink and substance abuse less than their parents' generation.
Byron was witty and engaging but didn't pull her punches with this hard hitting message.