Finally, an admission of all that is wrong with modern childhood


Did you see those pictures of schoolkids in Red Oak Primary School in Lowestoft in the UK pedalling on static bikes in the classroom, burning off calories and excess energy while reading their books? And did you think: “What a great idea?”

And then did you think: “Actually, that’s a bit weird … ?” And, finally, did you conclude that the world has officially gone bonkers?

That, more or less, was my own trajectory, although I did wonder if it would be considered too Victorian to rig those bikes to some sort of generator and let pupil power turn on the lights and heat the corridors.

Teachers at the school report great results: better concentration, less fidgeting and so forth. The school is now rolling out the floor-mounted machines to all 330 pupils, and if it’s doing them good, psychologically and physically, that’s a hugely beneficial thing, and the head is to be commended.

Hers is an ingenious response to the distorted society we have created – but it also makes me shudder because, however fun it looks, pedalling at desks is an admission of all that is wrong with modern childhood. Our children, who ought to be hurtling about in fresh air, are too sedentary.

Then, when they get home from school, their parents – who both work – are too tired to engage with them, much less confiscate their technology and weather the ensuing storm.

So we berate them for being slavishly addicted to their screens, but haven’t got the energy to offer them any alternative other than slumping with us on the sofa, watching terrestrial television. I say this in sorrow and guilt, not anger. It’s just how things are.

We must wake up to the terrible fate that will befall our children if we don’t act to change how things are. How we are. By the age of four, most youngsters are already “self-sufficient” on a tablet or mobile phone, and are able to navigate their way around apps, games and downloadable content. How depressing is that? At this rate, an entire generation may never learn to talk, unless it’s to Alexa.

I would rather my daughter were self-sufficient in climbing trees and skinning her knees than manically pedalling her way through spelling tests. Saving childhood isn’t about harking back to some Enid Blyton era of ginger beer and little Rees-Moggs dressed in three-piece pinstripes.

It is about nurturing our offspring the way nature intended, preserving their freedom and safeguarding mental health. Today’s 18- to 24-year-olds are the loneliest section of society due in no small part to their excessive social media use. If we don’t want that to happen to younger children, we must urgently engage in a national debate about what it is we do want.


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