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PAM FRAMPTON: Grave new world

Childhood today seems more more fraught with worries than it used to be. —
Childhood today seems fraught with more worries than it used to be. — 123RF Stock Photo

“That great Cathedral space which was childhood.” — Virginia Woolf

Our neighbourhood does not abound with children. At least, it didn’t seem to. On a fine Hallowe’en night we might get a handful of little ghouls and goblins, pirates and princesses.

Then, suddenly, after many of the COVID-19 prohibitions were lifted, there they were. Everywhere.

Riding bicycles through the neighbourhood wearing spiky helmets, tossing basketballs at driveway nets, playing street hockey, bouncing giddily on trampolines and running towards the newly untaped playground equipment. Climbing trees and chain link fences in the park. Kicking soccer balls and playing tennis until it’s almost dark.

Perhaps pent up and tired of computer screens and indoor pursuits, they were like something unchained.

Unbridled children’s laughter on a warm summer evening is a joyful thing to hear.

Because, of course, there are children in situations where there is little to laugh about — places rife with poverty, war, abuse.

My own childhood, while not perfectly idyllic (and whose is?), had many carefree moments — fossil hunting, reading in the woods, traipsing through wildflowers and watching butterflies drink nectar. Bonfires and the Big Dipper, catching frogs and tadpoles. Wading out into the rolling caplin, and swimming every day we could, trying to avoid the slap of the boys’ wet snapping towels on the reluctant trudge home.

Those weren’t necessarily better times, but they were simpler times. No internet, no smart phones, no tightly scheduled itinerary of extracurricular activities.

I’m not one of those people who dwells in the past; often, when I was there, I was plotting ways to get out of it, to go somewhere different and try something new. But I do think now, looking back, that as parents try their best to shield their children from the perils of the world, they have more fearsome things to worry about than my parents did.

My bogeymen were mostly found between the pages of books — the troll under the bridge in “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” the bad-tempered Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland,” the dastardly (and incessantly hungry) witch in “Hansel and Gretel” by the Brothers Grimm.

It’s not that my generation didn’t think about the problems of the wider world, it’s just that the wider world wasn’t as readily at our fingertips.

Those were the frightening characters who lurked under my bed after dark — but then, they could be dispelled easily enough by turning on a lamp.

Today’s children are besieged by sexualized images, social media peer pressures about popularity, clothes and body image, bewildered by fears about school shootings, general world strife, catastrophes caused by climate change and COVID-19. They may be subconsciously or consciously worried about their family’s financial state, or whether they’ve fallen behind in their studies because of the pandemic.

And then there are more insidious threats, such as who they’re communicating with online and whether there are sexual predators lurking.

Coverage of a court case by The Telegram’s Tara Bradbury this week offered chilling insight into the sorts of sexual harassment and violation children face in this digital world.

A 13-year-old girl was sent graphic sexual images over the internet by an adult she knew, who then pressured her to send him the same sort of material.

Children should not have to feel insecure and at risk in their own homes. They should not be confronted with disturbing imagery or blackmailed or shamed. They should not have to worry about food, shelter and the threat of violence.

It’s not that my generation didn’t think about the problems of the wider world, it’s just that the wider world wasn’t as readily at our fingertips. And I’m not suggesting children today don’t have happy childhoods, just that they’re more complicated.

As children head back to school in September, with new rules to follow about hand-sanitizing and social distancing, I hope their knapsacks aren’t too heavy.

Some of them are carrying too many cares of the world as it is.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton


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