Reclaiming Childhood by Helene Guldberg

Reclaiming Childhood: freedom and play in an age of fear

Helene Guldberg, Routledge

ISBN 9780415477239

At last, a book that challenges the culture of risk aversion that is having such a suffocating effect on children’s lives.

Drawing on her experiences as a free-ranging child in Norway, as a primary school teacher in Manchester and her research as a developmental psychologist, Guldberg provides a well-argued and spirited challenge to the “institutional suspicion and state-authorised scare mongering” that has fostered a climate of mistrust around contemporary parenting.

Guldberg is particularly critical of the anti-bullying crusade that she says exaggerates both the scale and the consequences of bullying, leading to increasingly intrusive adult and professional intervention in children’s activities. As a result, children’s free play is curtailed and their scope for independently and informally developed personal resilience and social skills is restricted.

Refusing to join the chorus of parenting blame, Guldberg instead points the finger at “government-driven and media-fuelled campaigns” around issues such as childhood obesity, mental ill-health and child abuse for provoking anxieties and fostering mistrust. Rather than encouraging children to regard strangers as a source of danger, she argues “let strangers be friends”. Taken together with her radical proposals to let “parents be parents” and “teachers be teachers”, this points the way forward to create a greater freedom for our children.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a London GP and Community Care columnist

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