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Cooper, J. (1987). Children Without Childhood by Marie Winn. Published by Penguin Books, London, 1984; 224 pp.; £2.95.. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(3):277-278.

(1987). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(3):277-278

Children Without Childhood by Marie Winn. Published by Penguin Books, London, 1984; 224 pp.; £2.95.

Review by:
Judy Cooper

My mother-in-law regularly remarks on how children have altered since ‘her day’. She talks as though there are two separate races and in a way she has a point. Society has changed. Parenthood has changed. Children have changed. Relationships have changed. Childhood itself has gone through many different phases in accordance with its historical background. In the past twenty years or so it has reached a new stage and Marie Winn in her book Children Without Childhood tries to understand how this has evolved.

She looks at two communities in America: a rural one in Denver and a small town one in Scotia, New York. Both middle class but varied as to occupation, religion and race. I think an urban British sample might yield similar results. According to Winn's thesis children today are a deprived and damaged species. Particularly school-age children whom parents neglect after doing their attentive duty in the first five years of life. Freud's influence has certainly made its mark on child-rearing practices. But so have easier divorce and two career families.

There has been a shift from a ‘protective to preparatory’ approach to children. They are left more to their own devices, left to make their own decisions and to look after themselves. If children have become the fiends we dread it is because we have failed to provide a ‘holding environment’ (Winnicott) for them. They have unlimited access to television. They grow up precociously and experiment with drugs and sex. Boundaries are eroded so that on occasion parents and children smoke dope together, and there are no secrets from our children, we confide in them and do not allow them to idealise us. Many a time my own children have helped me put my problems in perspective. The carefree playing and security of my mother-in-law's childhood have certainly disappeared.

Parents may be more psychologically aware but with the current pressure on their own needs and their urge for self-fulfilment they are less physically and emotionally available to their children.

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