The over-protected upbringing given to British children is making them more fat, fearful and afraid of challenges, a new report says. The report, to be published this week, has drawn attention to the "risk-averse" Britain, where children cannot throw snowballs and toddlers wear safety helmets.
"Risk and Childhood", published by the Royal Society for the Arts, will warn that this "cotton wool" culture is breeding a generation of protected youngsters who are afraid of challenges, suspicious of adults and lacking in confidence.
The report will also underline the rise in regulation from the Government that is attempting to manage every aspect of daily life. The report says that the collapse of communities and a lack of neighbourliness creates an atmosphere of apprehension, forcing parents to keep their children inside.
As a result, the report argues, youngsters are deprived of the freedom to develop, to manage and take risks - and, ultimately, to grow up. "We have a hypermobile society; high speed, anonymous and low trust," the Telegraph quoted Prof John Adams, an academic from University College London who sat on the RSA's Risk Commission, as saying.
"We also have knee-jerk legislators, and safety officers whose interpretation of the rules is often far in excess of what Health and Safety claim to have intended. All of these changes are leading to children being more and more confined," he added.
According to the professor, research in 1971 showed that 80 per cent of seven- to eight-year-olds got to school on their own, but this figure had fallen to 9 per cent by 1990.
"Now, you would not find a primary school in the country that would allow a seven- or eight-year-old to leave the premises without a responsible adult," he said. The 13-month investigation by the Commission found that, rather than keeping children safe, some risk-aversion measures failed and put youngsters in potentially more danger.
The report offers some complex, but practical solutions to slow the pace of the growing trend. The report calls for male role models to play a greater part in youngsters' lives, at a time when 85 per cent of primary teachers are female and 39 per cent of eight- to 11-year-old boys have no male teachers.
Another recommendation is the replacement of park wardens, who can leave children to their own devices but mediate if trouble arises. The report also recommends giving children the opportunity to face challenges and take risks in supervised environments.
"Activities like rafting or scaling a high-ropes course remain in children's memories well into adulthood," Mark Dullaway, a manager at Barnabas Adventure Centres, a charity that runs four venues in Britain, said. "We all know, and research backs this up, that children are more receptive to learning when they're having some fun. But it's not just about learning to trust; it's also about developing self-confidence," he added.