Do Aussies like children more than Brits do?

Hoodie in a frame

Photo by Feral78 from flickr

I am pleased to say that I will be returning to Australia this July and August for another series of talks and workshops, visiting Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane. There is a full itinerary at the end of this post. My diary on this trip is very full, so I will have limited opportunities for additional visits and meetings. However, I will try to share some of my thoughts and experiences here, as on previous trips. One question has been on my mind for a while: are Aussies more well-disposed towards children as a group than we are in the UK? Does Australia as a nation care more about the freedoms it allows its children than we do here in the old country?

I think this may be the case. I have no hard evidence. But I would point to a couple of revealing survey findings that support this view. The first, from 2012 [pdf link] shows that for Aussie parents of 8 – 12 year olds, giving their children time to play and just be a kid is a high priority (even higher than ensuring that they get a good education).

By contrast, a 2007 survey by the Children’s Society asked British adults (note: not just parents) about childhood freedoms. When asked the best age for children to be allowed out with friends unsupervised, almost half of respondents said aged 14 or over. This was despite the fact that most of them had been allowed out without an adult when they were 10, or even younger. In other words, most UK adults think children should be reared in captivity (in effect) until they are teenagers!

These findings, while not directly comparable, do suggest diverging attitudes towards children in the UK and its former colony. This fits with my own (admittedly subjective) impressions. Every time I visit Australia (and this will be my sixth trip in as many years) I see a high level of interest in children’s opportunities for outdoor play. And I get a strong sense from adults that they mourn the decline of the everyday freedoms of their own childhoods.

Moreover, I see little if any of the anti-child sentiment that is often directed towards children in public discourse here in the UK (especially in the tabloid press, where it can spill over into overt hatred and bile). In 2009 psychologist and TV presenter Tanya Byron declared that we in the UK had begun to see children and young people as ‘pestilent’. I wonder if the ‘hoodie’ – an item of clothing allegedly taken up by young people as a direct response to their sense of being under constant surveillance – is popular down under? I wonder if Australia has any ‘mosquitos’ – electronic devices that emit an ear-piercing tone which only those with young ears can hear, and which are now being widely used to force young people to move on (as described in this article from the Independent)?

Making cross-cultural comparisons is fraught with peril. What is more, adult attitudes are only one factor that shapes children’s everyday lives. The quality of the built environment is also crucial. And here, Australia’s sprawling suburbs and car-dependence are a big problem, as I noted in a previous post.

But attitudes are important. And while a settled view is unlikely, I would welcome your views about how Australian attitudes to children compare to those in the UK. Especially if you have experience of bringing up children – or working with children – in both countries. And I am sure you will keep it thoughtful and polite!

My itinerary

Follow the links or contact Tim for more details of these events

17 July (am)       Melbourne: City of Port Phillip (parents, community and educators)

18 July (lunch)  Melbourne: City of Port Phillip (council officers)

18 July (eve)      Melbourne: City of Port Phillip (parents, community and educators)

19 July (am)       Melbourne: City of Port Phillip (early childhood educators)

22 July (pm)       Melbourne: Fitzroy Community School

24 July                  Melbourne: launch event for Outdoors Victoria

25 July (eve)      Perth: Bold Park Community School

26 July                  Perth: Bold Park Community School conference

29 July (am)       Adelaide: Gowrie SA (out-of-school services)

30 July (am)       Adelaide: Gowrie SA (out-of-school services)

31 July (am)        Adelaide: Gowrie SA training event

1 August                Adelaide: SA Natural Resources Management Dept (waiting list)

2 August                Adelaide: Parks & Leisure Australia/ EChO SA conference [pdf link]

3 August                Adelaide EChO SA event

5 August                Adelaide: OPAL Campbelltown

6 August (eve)    Brisbane: Gowrie QLD

7 August                Brisbane: Queensland Children’s Activities Network: seminar for out of school hours care sector [added 17 July]

8 August                Brisbane: Seminar on outdoor spaces in the early years convened by Logan Child-Friendly Community Consortium

19 responses to “Do Aussies like children more than Brits do?

  1. Certainly raises interesting points for me, as an Aussie parent of 2 young children who has lived in London for the past 17 years! I am about to head back to live with my family in a small town on the NSW coast… where I assume the kind of life we and our children, especially, will lead will be a great contrast to life in London. However I am not sure that media portrayal of attitudes towards children/teens and a nation’s actual attitude are one and the same. These things do inform us however. And I am fairly certain that teenagers in Australia’s big cities are a pretty maligned bunch too, having had conversation with friends about gangs and knife crime in Sydney.

    I’ll report back then Tim, with what I find!

    • Thanks Penny – look forward to hearing your views! My hunch – and it is a hunch – is that anti-child attitudes in the UK are broader and deeper. for instance, they don’t just focus on teenagers.

  2. I don’t think so there is any difference between aussies and brits, I think children are liked by everyone

  3. After living in Australia for almost 15 years, I feel there is a growing anti-child sentiment brewing.
    Normal child behaviours are less tolerated leading to parents being judged for not being able to keep their children ‘under control’. Children are seen as a problem of the parents and topics such as government benefits for parents or funding for early childhood education are often met with the attitude of “you decided to breed, why should I pay for your children?” It is quite sad.

  4. As an Aussie (mother and studying to be an early childhood educator) that the sentiment in Australia is probably much more like the UK than you think. The negative attitude towards teenagers, including the use of ear peircing music that only teenagers can hear, is rife here. All too often I hear negative comments about ‘children today’, that apparently are always up to no good and need to learn manners and be disciplined.

    On a sligthly different note, I don’t think that a lot of Australians value play. There is a huge push for childhood to be a competition to who can learn the most academic things first, who can achieve the highest mark. Children are being forced into academic pursuits from before they turn 1 – I have seen second language classes for under ones! Schools are pushing for less recess, more academics. I’m in Queensland and my passion for play (both free play and play-based learning) makes me feel like an outsider.

    Fortunately there are some brave souls pushing for change, especially around Melbourne. Organisations such as Early Life Foundations and Play for Life are pushing for more free play and play based learning in Australia. It actually surprises me that you think UK values play less. I look at the field of playwork over there and assumed this meant a greater valuing of play than here in Australia. I’m hoping in my time as a mother and educator I will be able to witness a revaluing of play, with children given more access to time for free play and the utilisation of play in the classroom.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comments Stacey. Your point about playwork is interesting. Playwork emerged in the 60s and 70s when attitudes to children were different. It can a powerful force for good, but has yet to be mainstreamed as a profession (most people have never heard of it) and had a hard time in the 80s and 90s, then a brief revival under the last Government. Now, playwork services are under real threat from austerity measures. The vast majority of the UK’s children still have not experienced good playwork.
      My observations were more about mainstream cultural attitudes, and my sense that Australians mourn the loss of everyday childhood freedoms more than we do in the UK. But I may be wrong.

      • That’s very interesting to hear about the playwork.

        I have been thinking about the mainstream thoughts a lot today and it presents a real conundrum in my head. I would have to agree that people do seem to suggest a mourning of the loss of childhood as it once was, especially how children play. And yet there seems to be more of a push away from it in terms of the academics, after school commitments, electronics and items bought to keep kids occupied at home and the like.
        I do hope your right – that we Aussies value play. Hopefully we will start to see more push towards it sooner than later if the right people are given a voice.

  5. Tim, I am an Australian writer who lives in rural News South Wales. In two days I am launching my rhyming picture book called ‘Climb’ that is a celebration of adventurous play and childhood imagination. It is about a little boy who spends his day climbing, having all sorts of different playtime experiences. If you or your readers are interested, check it out at my website at http://www.carolinetuohey.com. I hope in a small way, my picture book helps connect children and parents to the joy of adventurous play.

  6. I’m not convinced that Australians necessarily give their children more freedom. I suspect that the rates of driving children to school would be substantially higher here (Aus) and the impact that has on their freedom and development will be marked. However that’s just a hunch too! (I’ve lived in both countries but only worked in outdoor play in the UK). The nature of cities here does however seem to allow greater space for play which is excellent.

    • Thanks for the comment Anna. I agree that Aussie children probably don’t have more everyday freedom than UK kids. But my point was about attitudes – specifically, cultural attitudes about children as a group – not about behaviour. Lots of factors shape children’s independent mobility. The interesting thing about attitudes is that they influence the way the issue is framed. My hunch (and it is a hunch) is that attitudes in the UK make it harder to frame the issues in a positive way, because of greater adult hostility to the very idea of childhood freedoms.

  7. Oh no! I’ve missed your talks in Melbourne! I am on our Primary School’s Environment Ctte and have recently had some interesting discussions around OH&S in the playground. I am going to find your book and talk to friends at Fitzroy Community School, but:
    Can I find podcasts or anything else online?
    When will you be back in Melbourne?
    Still can’t believe I’ve just missed out!

    • Kasiazhome, I have a recently published rhyming picture book called ‘Climb’ that celebrates adventurous play and specifically tackles risk in a way that is promoting children trying new things and thinking for themselves. It would certainly be a good text to read to kindergarten and grade ones about playtime and the sorts of issues they need to think about when playing. Have a look at my website: http://www.carolinetuohey.com or check it out via online bookshops.

  8. I think the point about attitudes is widespread but feel the area you live in in Australia plays a huge part in societies attitude towards children. Troubled areas in Australia will often fuel the publics negative attitude to children and not just teenagers, some very young children as well. Street gang trouble and violence in an area will influence the way the public feel about “hooligans on the street”. This would be very different to the country town where all the kids are playing in the park or at the end of a cul de sac or just on the street of a country town. I live in Queensland and work at a couple of Out of Schools Hours centres. The general opinion can vary considerably depending on where you live. I recently heard you speak at the QCAN seminar on the north side of Brisbane and thoughoughly enjoyed it. Most likely because I agree 100% with what you are saying and have for some time. Long before this seminar I have thought along similar lines. We can only hope to change things around and only then will we see children change and hopefully the publics general attitude towards them. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard a child say “We can’t do it because they will tell us its too risky or too dangerous.’ or “Why can’t we. Its not too hard.’ or the big one “I’m bored because they won’t let us do anything fun”. This can follow through straight to a childs attitude as they get older then they rebel and get up to mischief.I know it’s not oh just so easy but we have to start somewhere or we are going to end up with a generation of rebelious teenagers that are going to be worse than the generation before. I think not being allowed to take some risks and challenge themselves when they are younger is going to make for some horror teenagers in the years to come. Just a thought.

  9. Pingback: In praise of the emerging Aussie free range childhood movement | Rethinking Childhood

  10. Pingback: Aussies push to expand the horizons of childhood | Rethinking Childhood

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