By Krystallia Kyritsi (Staff Writer)
“Childhood is the most intensively governed sector of personal existence” (Rose, 1989:123).
Children in modern, western societies grow up under surveillance much more than ever before. Let’s start with play-areas. Nowadays it is very rare to see children playing on streets or in playgrounds without being supervised by an adult. In past decades it was usual for children to go out and play, but now this is considered to be dangerous and parents who allow their children to do that are seen as irresponsible. In the past, children could use a variety of objects found outside in order to play. Now, parents become paranoid of the idea that their children will use ‘dangerous’ objects or enter areas outside of their control. So, children are restricted to ‘safe’ areas which adults have made for them in order to reduce risks. They are supervised 24 hours by one adult or another. What is the impact of such constricting spaces on children’s lives? In her article, Hanna Rosin (2014) talks about the overprotection of kids nowadays. She shares a true story of an unusual space in North Wales, which is designed to function as a playground; a playground of adventure. The ground there is muddy and the area contains found tires, mattresses, wooden piles, and graffiti. Children are free to play and experiment by using a variety of the objects available in this space. For example, they sometimes use woods to light up fires. Nothing reminds one of a usual, everyday playground. The philosophy underpinning this alternative playground highlights the importance of allowing children to deal with risky situations, to experiment, to work co-operatively and to build up their confidence and courage. This, in turn, provides a great example of how children can remain safe in situations not subject to extreme surveillance. Moreover, it can be argued that constant surveillance deprives children of their independence: suffocating their risk-taking skills and reducing their willingness to experiment and play as they want to play.
The school area is another space in which the surveillance of childhood is exercised. When entering school, children are divided into classes by age groups. They cannot – therefore - play, co-operate and learn with older children anymore, because there is a standarised programme that each age group is obliged to follow. All activities are pre-organised for them and children are expected to do nothing more but follow the path, achieve the goals that are set up for them. Then, it is believed, they will become skillful adults who will experience guaranteed success in their lives. For James et.al. (1998:38) school is viewed as a space ‘dedicated to the control and regulation of the child’s body and mind through regimes of discipline, learning, development, maturation and skill’. Of course, this disciplinary power takes different forms throughout the years. As Rose (1989) argues, the new forms of power discipline and control the inner children so as to produce docile bodies of good citizens [See foucauldian analysis - Foucault (1977)] who are required in society.
Childhood as such is an over-supervised and programmed sector and children’s freedom of action is constrained to organized and surveilled activities. As adults/educators/parents we need to decide; do we want children to have a voice in their learning and play, or do we think that children should grow up in such monitored systems?
Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish, London: Penguin
James, A., Jenks, C., Prout, A. (1998) Theorizing Childhood, Cambridge: Polity Press
Rose, N. (1989) Governing the Soul, London: Routledge
Rosin, H. (2014) The Overprotected Kid. Online access at: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/