Friday, 29 July 2011

Turn on, tune in, drop out of your child's life

“Please use your liberty to promote ours,” wrote the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi over a decade ago, urging people to take a stand against companies doing business with Burma’s military dictatorship.

Part of what is great about the courageous Aung San Suu Kyi is that she makes us ponder not only the injustice of daily life in Burma, but other injustices that are closer at hand.

Many of us living in England are enjoying numerous freedoms which are at the direct or indirect expense of young children. The liberation that is brought by mobiles, smart phones and music players is paid for, in part, by the babies and toddlers who are being pushed around the pavements, parks and shops by parents and other adults whose ears are plugged with white earphones or covered by big retro headphones. These children, strapped into place, stuck in a forward-facing position, have no hope of gaining anyone’s attention. The children must live in a state of isolation whilst the adults enjoy the connectedness of their mobile and social networking on the go, or the pleasures of their music.

Likewise, there is a type of freedom for adults that comes from being able to wander round a big supermarket or store, touching and holding things that feel beautiful, or smell good to eat, or are packaged and branded in ways that have been made exciting through advertising. But how close to impossible it must feel to a small child, to be able to reach and touch, but not to have. How can we expect children to be enticed and delighted by adverts shown between their programmes, but to leave the shops empty-handed, without those longed-for branded products? No wonder so many toddlers and young children lose control of themselves whilst out shopping, descending into fury or hopeless crying.

For every adult who enjoys the ability to get into a car and travel freely, there may be a child who spends so much time strapped into a car seat that she loses the liberty that comes from being able to crawl, walk and run.   

We like to think that we care deeply about the children, our future, but in so many respects our freedoms are being paid for through the restriction of theirs. How often do we use our liberty to defend and promote the basic rights of the child? 

First published in Nursery World