Press Letter on Toxic Childhood:

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The letter reproduced below, on children's mental health and the malaise of childhood, has been signed by over 100 respected academics, professionals and writers from a range of backgrounds, including:

Baroness Susan Greenfield, Director of the Royal Institution
Dr Penelope Leach, author, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Birkbeck College, London
Sir Richard Bowlby, President of the Centre for Child Mental Health
Sir Jonathon Porritt, environmental campaigner
Professor Tim Brighouse, Commissioner for London Schools
Camilla Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Club in Southwark
Mick Brookes, General Secretary of the National Association of Headteachers

and many authors of books for and about children, including Philip Pullman, Dr Dorothy Rowe, Dr Aric Sigman and three Children's Laureates: Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo.

The letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 12th September 2006, and we have opened this web page for anyone who reads the letter, or a report about it, to offer ideas, feedback, to sign up to the letter etc. Do please contact us at the email address above with any ideas you may have for taking this initiative forward, so that we can make this into an ongoing campaign that maximises the impact of the concern that so many of us have about today's children.

With warm regards,

Sue Palmer (author of Toxic Childhood)
Richard House (Senior Lecturer, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University) September 2006

Text of press letter:

As professionals and academics from a range of backgrounds, we are deeply concerned at the escalating incidence of childhood depression and children's behavioural and developmental conditions. We believe this is largely due to a lack of understanding, on the part of both politicians and the general public, of the realities and subtleties of child development.

Since children's brains are still developing, they cannot adjust - as full-grown adults can - to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change. They still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed "junk"), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.

They also need time. In a fast-moving hyper-competitive culture, today's children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum. They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini-adults and exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past.

Our society rightly takes great pains to protect children from physical harm, but seems to have lost sight of their emotional and social needs. However, it's now clear that the mental health of an unacceptable number of children is being unnecessarily compromised, and that this is almost certainly a key factor in the rise of substance abuse, violence and self-harm amongst our young people.

This is a complex socio-cultural problem to which there is no simple solution, but a sensible 'first step' would be to encourage parents and policy-makers to start talking about ways of improving children's well-being. We therefore propose as a matter of urgency that

  • public debate be initiated on child-rearing in the 21st century
  • this issue should be central to public policy-making in coming decades.

[Any readers wishing to contribute to this debate can contact us by logging on to:]

Yours sincerely

in alphabetical order:

Professor Peter Abbs, University of Sussex

Liz Attenborough, Manager Talk to Your Baby Campaign

Robin Balbernie, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

Jean Barlow, Teacher Consultant, Rochdale Children's Trust

Sally Barnes, writer and consultant on early years education

Geoff Barton, headteacher King Edward VI School, Suffolk

Camilla Batmanghelidjh, founder, Kids Club

Virginia Beardshaw, CEO, I CAN

Dr Robert Beckford, University of Birmingham, Documentary maker, Professor of African Diasaporin Studies

Professor Ron Best, Roehampton University

John C. Beyer, Director of Mediawatch UK

Sir Richard Bowlby, President, Centre for Child Mental Health

David Brazier, Ph.D., Rev. author, abbot

Professor Tim Brighouse, Commissioner for London Schools

Mick Brookes, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

Professor Greg Brooks, University of Sheffield

Dr Christopher Houghton Budd, economic historian

Christabel Burniston, President, The English Speaking Board

Jean Clark, Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Christopher Clouder, Alliance for Childhood and Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship

Paul Cooper, editor Soccer Coaching International

Pie Corbett, author and literacy consultant

Arthur Cornell, Chairman, Family Education Trust

Jill Curtis,

Professor Tricia David, Canterbury Christchurch University College

Marion Dowling, President, British Association of Early Childhood Education

Dr John Dunford, General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders

Margaret Edgington, Early Years specialist consultant and author

Peter Elfer, Early Childhood Studies, Roehampton University

Michele Elliot, Director, Kidscape

Professor Colin Feltham, Sheffield Hallam University

Anne Fine, author and former Children's Laureate

Helen Freeman, Director of Publications, Scholastic Magazines

Dr Marilyn Fryer, C.Psychol. The Creativity Centre Ltd.

Di Gammage, Play Therapist, University of Plymouth

Jan Georgeson, University of Gloucestershire

Melanie Gill, child forensic psychologist, Commonsense Associates

Christopher Gilmore, Atma-Dovetales Educational

Sally Goddard Blythe, Director, Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology

Diana Goodey, educational author

Prue Goodwin, literacy specialist, University of Reading

Rob Grant, Lecturer in Development Economics, University of East Anglia

Baroness Susan Greenfield, Director of the Royal Institution

Dr Natasha Grist, University of East Anglia

Andrea Halewood, Chartered Counselling Psychologist, Roehampton University

Grethe Hooper Hansen, former head of S.E.A.L., educational consultant

Robert Hart, Analytical Psychologist

Colin and Jacqui Hawkins, children's authors

Sylvie Hutu, international trainer, International Association of Infant Massage

Brenda Hobbins, founder, Osiris Educational

Patrick Holford, Chief Executive of the Food for the Brain Foundation

Dr Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University

Dr Frances Hutchinson, economist

Virginia Ironside, journalist and author

Julie Jennings, Chair of the Early Childhood Forum

Sue Johnston-Wilder, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Education, Open University

Dr Paul Kelly, Senior Clinical Psychologist

Martin Large, author of Set Free Childhood

Dr Penelope Leach, author, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues, Birkbeck College, London

Dr John Lees, University of Greenwich

Professor Del Loewenthal, Roehampton University

Dr Christine Macintyre, Hon Fellow, University of Edinburgh

Neil McLelland, Chief Executive, National Literacy Trust

Dr Peter Martin, Principal Lecturer in Counselling Psychology, Roehampton University

Mildred Masheder, writer on childhood, author of Positive Parenting

Dr Brien Masters, Director, London Waldorf Teacher Training Seminar

Dr Roland Meighan, educational publisher and author of Comparing Learning Systems

Montessori Education UK

Michael Morpurgo, author and former Children?s Laureate

Professor Janet Moyles, emeritus professor at Anglia Ruskin University

Craig Newnes, C. Psychol., editor of Making and Breaking Children's Lives

Janni Nicol, Early Childhood Representative, Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship

Vincent Nolan, Synectics Education Initiative

Chris Oakley, Psychoanalyst, The Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Haya Oakley, Hon Sec of The College of Psychoanalysts

Lynne Oldfield, Director, London Waldorf Early Childhood Training Course

Jayne Osgood, Senior Research Fellow, London Metropolitan University

Sue Palmer, literacy consultant and author of Toxic Childhood

Dr Lindsey Peer, CBE

Professor Michael A. Peters, University of Illinois

Gervase Phinn, former school inspector and author

Professor David Pilgrim, clinical psychologist and academic author

Mrs Chris Ponsford, Development Director, What About The Children? (WATCh?)

Sir Jonathon Porritt, environmental campaigner

Denis Postle, psychotherapist and author of The Mind Gymnasium

Linda Pound, Early Years Consultant

Philip Pullman, author

Tom Raines, Editor, New View magazine

Dr Graham Rawlinson, educational psychologist, University of Sussex

Professor Colin Richards, HMI (ret.)

Dr Alex Richardson, Mansfield College, Oxford; author of They Are What We Feed Them

Denise Roberts, (Editor, My Child magazine)

Veronika Robinson, Editor of The Mother magazine

Dr Dorothy Rowe, psychologist and writer

Professor Andrew Samuels, University of Essex

Sally Schweizer, Early Childhood Advisor, teacher trainer, author of Well, I Wonder

Wendy Scott, former early years adviser to the DfES

Dorothy Selleck, Early Years consultant

Dr Aric Sigman, writer, broadcaster and author of Remotely Controlled

Pippa Smith and Miranda Suit, co-founders of Media March UK

Professor Margaret Snowling, University of York

Professor Ernesto Spinelli, psychotherapist and counselling psychologist, Regent's College, London

Dr Pat Spungin,

Dr Stephen Sterling, Schumacher Reader in Education for Sustainability, Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth

Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, Director of Health Sciences Research Institute, University of Warwick

Professor Brian Thorne, University of East Anglia and the College of Teachers

Dr Sami Timimi, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Lincolnshire

Nick Totton, Editor, Psychotherapy and Politics journal

Dr Rona Tutt, OBE , SEN Consultant, Speaker and Writer

Norman Wells, Director, Family Education Trust

Dr David Whitebread, University of Cambridge

Hilary Wilce, columnist and author of Help Your Child Succeed At School

Bryony Williams, nursery manager

Jacqueline Wilson, author and Children's Laureate

Sarah Woodhouse, Right From the Start education and support project for parents