Children and adults in parallel worlds

The scene is familiar to anyone working in social care. It’s 11pm
on a school night, and the eight year old is still up, gazing at
murder and mayhem on the television while his younger brother is
slumped asleep, fully dressed, next to him on the settee.

Recent research on sleep patterns illustrates a pressing
contemporary problem. We have ever-increasing amounts of
information about what is or isn’t good for children. Yet, the
grain of family life seems to militate against putting much of it
into practice.

Jim Horne, an expert in sleep deprivation at Loughborough
University, says up to two-thirds of children are getting
insufficient sleep, missing out on up to 4,500 hours by their
seventh birthday.

The findings, published last week, reveal that far fewer parents
read a bedtime story than in previous generations. Children are now
falling asleep in bedrooms, which are stocked with computers and
televisions, with their hand on the mouse or remote control.

Horne says: “Adequate night-time sleep is just as important as
healthy eating and regular exercise for children to develop.”

Still, one in four parents in work have children who sleep fewer
than the recommended six to eight hours for an adult. Neglect?

Or perhaps a conflict of needs? The child who goes to bed at a
reasonable time may also be the son or daughter who rarely sees a
parent, late home from the office.

What is truly disturbing about this study is that it highlights the
way in which children and adults under the same roof are
increasingly living lives on parallel tracks which, apparently,
intersect only rarely. Meals together? Not often. Conversation?
Only when the telly is broken. The ritual of saying goodnight
replaced by a drift towards bed. Children bringing up themselves –
even in average income homes.

According to figures published for May’s missing persons awareness
month, an initiative of eight organisations including the Salvation
Army, 210,000 people are reported missing each year, while many
more move out of the family circle by accident or design.

Of course, people permanently turn their backs on families for 101
reasons – among them divorce and the impact of step-parents.

Perhaps, though, the final goodbye is made very much easier when
the roots are already loosened in childhood by the kind of domestic
non-routine which increasingly seems to mark modern family life.

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