A recent survey by Netmums says that childhood now finishes at the age of 12 due to the pressures of modern life. In the survey, more than two thirds of parents felt that childhoods ended before their children became teenagers and 16% said it happened by the age of 10.  The survey claims that boys are under pressure to be more macho and believe that a person’s appearance is their most important quality. And girls are more body-conscious and under immense pressure to be thin.

So what can parents do to preserve their children’s childhood and innocence?

  1. Imaginative play – Encourage creativity and creative play in your children. Buy games and toys that encourage imaginative play
  2. Suitable clothes – Dress children for play and getting dirty. Avoid short skirts and low necklines.
  3. Guilt-free down time – Have unstructured play time or chill time every day – don’t over-schedule your children’s free time with activities.
  4. Have computers in family areas – Keep TVs and computers out of children’s bedrooms, so you can see what they are watching
  5. Turn the TV Off – Don’t have the TV on all day – turn it off and let the children find things to do or games they can play.
  6. Friends – Make sure children get plenty of social time with other children & teach them the skills of taking turns, sharing and how to work out arguments
  7. Limit screen time – Work out how much time you are happy for your children to watch TV or play on computer games. For instance, could you limit the time your child spends in front of an electronic screen (TV, computer, mobile, iPad) to one hour a day?
  8. Limit homework – Keep an eye on how much homework your child is getting each night. Make sure it is reasonable & talk to your children’s teachers if it is too much. Establish regular homework routines, and make sure that the atmosphere at home is calm and unpressurised during exams. Help your child establish effective revision techniques, and let your child set their own educational goals
  9. Ignore pester power – Stick to your guns about what you feel is suitable for your child to see.  How do you feel about allowing children to watch adult programmes or movies? Get Facebook before the age of 13? Play age-inappropriate games on the Play station? Or watch sexy music videos?
  10. Adult supervision – Be careful about the homes your child visits. Some parents allow their child to watch adult movies, drink alcohol, or be completely unsupervised. Be sure your children only go to homes where there is a responsible adult in charge.
  11. Time to talk – Have as many family meals as you can. Talk about everything from girls wearing make-up, digitally altering and airbrushing photos and the certificate ratings for games and movies. As children grow older you can discuss subjects such as sex, drugs, sexting, self-harm and smoking. Meal times are a great time to have casual conversations about difficult subjects, ask your children’s views and share your own.
  12. Parental controls – Make sure you have proper parental controls on any computers your children can use. You have to take responsibility for making sure your children don’t accidentally (or deliberately) see disturbing sexual images or porn on the internet. You need to keep careful tabs on what they watch, listen to, log on to and play. Prevention is better than cure!
  13. Allow privacy but encourage openness – Allow children to have some privacy and to make mistakes. If you are constantly snooping on your child, you will earn their resentment and make them more effective at hiding things from you. If you want your children to be open and honest make sure you treat their mistakes, opinions and conversations with respect and calm. No subject should be off-limits if you want your child to come to YOU when they have a problem. If they are frightened of how you will react children are more likely to lie.
  14. Encourage a healthy body image – Be aware of the pressure on girls and boys to have the perfect body image. Children need to know they are ok just as they are. If you can, avoid labels such as ‘fit’, ‘pretty’ or ‘slim’.  Instead, use comments such as ‘you look nice today’ or ‘I love just spending time with you’. Find out from your children what they admire about people they look up to. And instead of diets talk about healthy eating.
  15. Spend time with your child. Be involved in your child’s life. Spend plenty of one-to-one time with each of your children and have a fun time together as a family. Make time every day to chat about their day. Encourage their interests and let children know you love them just the way they are.

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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