Toxic Childhood – Real Phenomenom or an excuse for Bad Parenting?

Over the last 30 years behavioural problems in the UK have doubled and psychological problems have increased by 70% and each year 4,400 people commit suicide. Suicide is the most common cause of death among men under 35 in the modern world. (Link) ( 2012 the rate is only 6.5 in 100,000.) In one of UNICEF’s surveys regarding children’s wellbeing, UK came bottom, with USA just above. Following this development WHO (World health Organisation) predicts over 50% of children will suffer from mental instability and depression at some point in their lives.

Sue Palmer started a lot of debate with the release of her book Toxic Childhood, 2006. She explains that the modern world is developing is racing speed in which humans, especially children cannot keep up. She is researching whether something is interfering with children’s development. The numbers of developmental disorders are increasing amongst children; their emotional and intellectual development is being affected by the accelerating and stressful society around them.

In normal development from birth to teens:

distractibility →→              attention          =                 focused concentration

impulsivity                           →→              self-control       =                 deferred gratification

self-centredness                 →→              empathy           =                 consideration

These processes in development takes time and according to Palmer(2006) this development is disrupted by the high speed children are forced to develop in.

Instead of parents spending their spare – time with their kids, both parents spend all day at work with the kids in school or in front of the TV and when the whole family is home the kid(s) is parked by the TV or computer instead of practicing interaction with his/her parents or outside playing with friends. Their social learning is inhibited (Palmer, 2006). As direct consequence, children grow more self-centred and less considerate towards other human beings along with their communication skills development is being limited. Social skills cannot be learned through a TV or computer games, social interaction is needed.

Wendy Earle, 2006, brings other arguments to the debate. She mentions the fact that from the early 1900 to year 2000 society changed at the speed of light with machines and gadgets that, viewed from the bigger picture, appeared in a second. Children of the modern world need to be presented with these gadgets, because they are the future,  and that is how the future will be: run by technology.

Media is of course another aspect that contributes to the upbringing and psychological development of children. Children are from birth being brought in a world of consumption. From early years they are being raised by the TV and other media “to consume”. The whole: You need this to be Happy – thing. Which contributes to the idea that your life is eternally incomplete until you have purchased this gadget, as well as the obvious stress.

Technology isn’t all bad. Video games are the whole reason I learned English, no “ordinary” person at home over 35 can speak or read English properly. Because they never had the need for it, they didn’t have games in English or internet, all written in English. So factual learning went into overdrive when internet was introduced and faster mental development is possible. Instead of the younger asking the older for something, the roles have been reversed. Computers and the internet allow us to gain knowledge we otherwise would never obtain.

Nonetheless, social skills are still oh so necessary and the attention, care and affection given to children by their parents can never be replaced by technology – Technology should not serve as a substitute for parental nurture.

“Gadgets are cool and all, but we should use them as tools instead of gimmicks that mess us up”
-Popps class, Brigantia 342, 2012.


3 comments on “Toxic Childhood – Real Phenomenom or an excuse for Bad Parenting?

  1. In Palmer’s books a lot of referencing to studies can be found and she has a lot of good points, but as Earle,2006 says, Toxic childhood is a teachers wet dream for teacher that want to blame every bad behavior on the parents-even though Earle has no scientific evidence to back up her statements.

    Another aspect aswell to be considered are the social stereotypes children are presented via Media and from “society”. And according to Williams, Bennet and Best(1975)’s (as found in Shaffer and Kipp, Developmental Psychology, 8th ed. pp:11) study among kindergartners: children in middle childhood ( 5-12) are already quite aware of social stereotypes and what behavior is “expected” from them.

  2. bellabean18 says:

    To say that mental disorders in children are caused due to their parents being replaced with technology cannot be the only cause. Although in recent years technology has become an extreme part of everyday life, this correlation between increase in mental disorders and technology does not explain causality. Most, if not all, children are in some way or another occupied by technology, however, not all suffer from mental disorders and so there must be other causes. Siefert et al. (1999) found a connection between food insufficiency and mental health causes. This could be an explanation because if a child is not getting a good nutritional diet they may be more prone to mental disorders. This could be a cause as those who cannot afford a sufficient diet are usually those who do suffer from mental disorders.

  3. jennyeuk says:

    What an emotional video and quite right too. Although this is an issue that is becoming recognised more and more, the rise in behavioural problems within children cannot be solely down to this, as other factors such as parenting, or cultures have other influences over a child’s behaviour.

    However, there is a culture that parents find it easier to put the kid/s in front of the telly; as you pointed out, so children are not fully developing their social skills correctly. There appears to be a trend where parents fear their children from playing outside, and that it is far safer for the child to be inside watching telly with them; which is sad. Because of this, children are exposed more to television and as we all know from the media, there are very few limitations and positive influences that parents are able to rely on and in some ways cannot control what their children are watching.

    Many variations in children’s programmes that are aimed at specific age and gender groups, such as; fighting and violence for boys, and glamour and fashion for girls. These can only influence a child’s behaviour within social settings as they can only mimic this type of behaviour.

    There is also a higher risk of child obesity, as children have less exposure to physical excise, which also influences mental health issues such as eating disorders.


    Marshall, S. J., Biddle, S.J.H., Gorely, T., Cameron, N., & Murdey, I. (2004). Relationships between media use, body fatness and physical activity in children and youth: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Obesity. (2004) 28, 1238–1246. Nature Publishing Group, DOI 0307-0565/04. Retrieved from

    Valentine, G. (1998). A safe place to grow up? Parenting, perceptions of children’s safety and the rural idyll. Journal of Rural Studies. V13, 2, April 1997, (Pg. 137–148). Retrieved from

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