Childhood in crisis?
Childhood in crisis?

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Whose childhood is in crisis?

A key development in understanding modern childhood lies in the relationship between the minority and majority worlds. The experience of growing up in the West emerges as less than ideal, despite levels of affluence and the provision of education and health services. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century media commentary and public discourses on childhood have spoken of childhood as in ‘crisis’. The idea that childhood is currently in crisis appears to be everywhere. A UNICEF report [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (2007) on the well-being of children and young people in 21 industrialised countries ranked the UK at the bottom of the table in their assessment of child well-being and the USA second from bottom. The report focused on six areas: material well-being; health and safety; educational well-being; family and peer relationships; behaviours and risks; and young people’s own perceptions of well-being. The report placed the Netherlands at the top of the table, followed by Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The report offers an economic account of the findings, powerfully suggesting that, whatever the level of national wealth, children who grow up in poverty are more vulnerable and their experiences of childhood more difficult.

This free course explores these ideas as a starting point for the study of childhood. You will consider the concept of childhood and the ways in which the notion of crisis may shape how children in the minority world are seen. You will also be introduced to some of the different ways in which the idea of childhood in crisis is constructed and reproduced. The activities ask you to use these insights to develop your own ideas on how childhood may be constructed.

The following activity invites you to think about the idea that childhood is in crisis and to develop ways of explaining the prevalence of this idea.

Activity: Podcast: Is childhood in crisis?

Timing: Allow about 40 minutes
Podcast: Is childhood in crisis?Video player: 20100726T155148_FINAL_EDIT.m4v

Address the following questions after watching the podcast above:

  • How can the idea of childhood in crisis be explained?
  • Is the idea of childhood in crisis a media creation?


The idea that childhood is in crisis can be found across a range of sources – news and media; cultural commentaries; policy-orientated reports; policy documents – in ways that are resonant with individual and collective memory. Your own experiences of childhood will influence the way you relate to these sources and will affect your responses to the themes raised here. We encourage you to think of yourself, your biography and feelings as a resource for developing your ideas. Childhood in crisis can be understood from different perspectives – historical, cultural studies and sociological. The commercialisation of pregnancy, birth and parenting can be seen as a minority-world phenomenon. However, we should be wary of thinking about the minority world and the majority world as distinctly different and separate from each other; there is a relationship between all geographic locations, forged through processes of globalisation.

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