Does childhood exist anymore? If we aren’t going to change our society for ourselves, we have to at least make it better for the next generation

Who remembers being ten? I can’t say my first year in the big double figures is that memorable, but as far I can recall, it was pretty good. Yes, my teenage and early adult years were (are still kind of are) a menagerie of repressed issues coming to the fore, lots of screaming and self-hatred, but at ten I was fairly comfortable with myself.

Being a September baby, I spent my first double digit year in year 5, which I think we can all agree was a top dollar deal. You were the big boys of the school, yes there were year 6s but those unlucky peers had SATS. It was the age when my bedtime got later, I got a DS (and thus began my brief addiction to Animal Crossing), and I was finally allowed to write with a pen. Ratatouille and the bad Harry Potter film was released and we all learnt what Keith Richards did to his father’s ashes. 

Of course, 2018 and 2007 are very different years, the geo-political landscape of our country and world has gone from bad, to worse, to quite frankly embarrassingly terrifying! Yes, when we were ten the credit crunch was just coming, and Gordon Brown came into power, but a lot of us well, were just kids, so this stuff didn’t directly enter our minds. That’s not me saying we weren’t affected by the impact of the credit crunch through our parents, but let’s be honest, at ten did you lose sleep over interest rates?

And yet, in the last couple of months, I have continually seen stories about children who are spending this age, in mental states I would not wish on my worst enemy. In the refugee camp of Kara Tepe camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, people are having to live in constant survival mode in inhumane and degrading conditions. The humanitarian representative for the charity Save the Children, Andreas Ring, explained that out of around 13,000 asylum seekers, far above the 8,700 ‘capacity’, on the Greek islands, 5,000 are children. And that: “Many of these children have escaped war and conflict only to end up in camps many of them call ‘hell’ and where they say they are made to feel more like animals than humans.” And because these children are trapped in a cycle of poverty, violence, sexual abuse, and instability, there is not only a concern for their physical wellbeing, but also their psychological. According to the charity, children as young as nine are self-harming, struggling with drug and alcohol abuse and twelve year olds are attempting suicide. 

Yes, you could argue that there have always been children suffering in conditions like this, and it’s only because we’re older, digital media is Big Brother, and these children are on our doorstep, that we are aware of it now. But I think that by saying ‘well it’s always been like this’ disregards the extremity and chronic nature of this crisis that has not been a reality, on this scale, for a long time. Moreover, it isn’t just children in refugee camps who are dealing with intense psychiatric issues. Only a few days ago the BBC reported that a fifth of fourteen year old girls in the UK have self-harmed. In a study of 11,000 children, The Children’s Society recorded that out of the 5,624 girls who took part, 22% admitted this dangerous form of emotional coping. And out of the 5,376 boys involved, 9% also responded they did this. The study also found that these rates increased by 46% among LGBT teens. These results are compounded by an NHS report earlier this month which explained that the admissions to hospitals of girls aged 18 and under for self-harm has nearly doubled in just two decades. 

And of course, we cannot forget the tragic story of James Myles, the nine-year old boy from Denver who killed himself after experiencing a torrent of abuse for being gay. In this world of extremism, Islamophobia, racism, homophobia, Trump, austerity, brexit, social media, I could go on, is it surprising that the next generation are getting hit the most.

I’ve already written an article all about how we are being shaped and warped by the current state of the world (http://cubmagazine.co.uk/2018/04/are-we-an-anxious-generation-i-now-depend-on-satirical-anxiety-memes-to-get-me-through-the-day/), indeed a report by Sky News the other month detailed how the current UK demographic of 16 to 25-year-olds is the most anxious it has been in the last ten years, but we at least remember S Club 7 and a time before sh*t really hit the fan. 

This world of division is the only one these kids know and it is affecting them at a tender and vulnerable age. We have to change, we cannot destroy the futures of those who have not caused these problems. Yes, we are talking more about mental health, raising awareness, breaking down stigma, blah blah blah – that’s not actually the most useful thing to do anymore. 

At home, services are still stretched, in fact the government are continually cutting our dear old NHS, therefore people are continually and increasingly not having access to the right (or even any) support systems. Children are not taught about mental health, so don’t know how to react to themselves or a peer who is struggling with it, and therefore either crumble under it, or become part of the problem out of ignorance. And abroad, we are all (yes, it’s not just the governments fault – most of us are guilty of having a mindset of lack lustre, sporadic and inactive solidarity) hearing these horrible stories of suffering, and what are we doing? Well clearly not enough.

Education about mental health needs to start in the classroom, services and resources need to be provided to all areas of society and active political humanitarian action needs to be taken abroad, and not just at home.

If these changes aren’t made, well, childhood will cease to be a thing of dreams.

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