An intergenerational schism is fracturing society. It is an age-based estrangement that is alienating young people from adults. Its scope is unprecedented.
According to Linda Sibley at Confidential Kids, "Kids no longer trust adults."
Researchers have indicated excessive child-protection initiatives have driven a wedge between youth and adult generations.
"Dramatic escalation of child-protection measures has succeeded in poisoning the relationship between the generations," concludes Kent University researcher Frank Furedi in his recent report Licensed to Hug. "(The result has been) an atmosphere of distrust."
Throughout history, informal and unregulated collaboration between the generations has been the foundation of socialization of young people, he pointed out.
"Cultural distancing of generations weakens the bonds of community life," he added.
"Teaching children that strangers are usually an opportunity, rather than a threat, is healthier for children, parents and communities," explained Bill Durodie at Royal Roads University in British Columbia. "Children wrapped up in cotton may appear and even feel safe... but in the long run, this may incapacitate them and infantilize them."
Overprotection of children can stunt their progress toward maturity, researchers claim.
"Children who are overly cautioned and protected can be made to feel anxious and fearful of their environment," explained Deb Gebeke, assistant director of family and consumer sciences at North Dakota State University. "They may have a difficult time developing a sense of independence and self-confidence."
According to Furedi, adults who volunteer to help children, "once regarded as pillars of the community (are now stigmatized as) potential child abusers."
Adult-phobia has eroded away the historic atmosphere of intergenerational trust. A recent UNICEF study found almost one-half of children admit they do not trust adults in general. The highest trust levels occur in rural children and those from poorer families. Fully 30 per cent admit they do not trust teachers, and that figure increases with age.
Children living with both parents are more trusting of adults than are children whose parents do not live together, the study shows.
"Across all countries, trust decreases with age towards all categories of adults except mothers," the researchers concluded.
The child-adult gulf has widened sharply in "regimes that insist that adult-child encounters must be mediated by a security check," Furedi reported. "The licensing of adulthood undermines its authority."
According to a recent report by the New York University Child Study Center, "children distrust adults and fear neighbours in their community" largely due to a constant barrage of media-reported violence in society.
"In the rush to protect children from all possible harm, logic and reason went out the window," Durodie concludes. " Fear of adults has devastating effects for kids."
The wedge between children and adults in the United Kingdom has broadened further due to the recent Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which requires that all adults who regularly come into contact with children undergo an enhanced criminal record check.
"An apartheid between adults and children has resulted," Durodie suggests.
Robert Alison is a zoologist and freelance writer based in Victoria.