Parents, children lose art of
All-day television, the demise of the family meal and
even the forward-facing design of pushchairs are conspiring to kill the
art of conversation between parents and children. The results have
"alarming implications" for pupil behaviour in the first few years of
primary school, says a pamphlet to be published this week by Britain's
Basic Skills Agency (BSA), the body responsible for improving literacy
Children resort to tantrums because they arrive at
school as new entrants unable to express themselves, it argues.
"Children who can't tune in to what the teacher is saying or express
their own feelings and needs adequately are at a greater risk of
misunderstandings, which may often lead to disruptive behaviour," the
pamphlet says. "Once they find themselves in trouble in school, it's all
too easy for them to spiral down into behaviour problems with a knock-on
effect on learning." The pamphlet, published to coincide with the launch
of a "talk to me" campaign by the BSA, argues that the biggest problem
for primary schools is teaching children how to speak and listen, skills
they should have learned before they started school. Its author, Sue
Palmer, a literacy consultant, says: "In 10 years as a travelling
literacy specialist, I've talked to tens of thousands of primary
teachers - and all over the country they've told me the same thing:
children's speaking and listening skills seem to be deteriorating.
"Infant teachers are especially alarmed by the levels of language of
each new intake and the difficulties children have in settling down in
The BSA is urging schools to meet parents to explain
to them the importance of conversing with their children. However, the
odds seem stacked against them, according to the pamphlet. All-day
television fills homes with noise, making it difficult to talk. Changes
in parents' working patterns mean they have less time for the children
and this is leading to the decline of the family meal, another important
time for conversation. Family members are also spending less time
together in the same room. A survey by the National Literacy Trust
estimated that 40 per cent of children aged 4 and under have a
television in their bedroom and the number is rising.
Another contributory factor is believed to be the
design of children's buggies. Forward-facing models make it more
difficult for parents to talk to their infants. "Over the last 50 years
- but increasingly over the last couple of decades - unexpected side
effects of social change and technological advances have conspired to
reduce the amount of conversation between parents and children," Ms
Palmer says. Margaret Donaldson, a child developmental psychologist,
said: "It could be that parents are talking less to their children than
at any time in human history." The problem is not just with youngsters
from deprived homes - although it is most acute in that category, the
pamphlet says. "The contributory factors listed above would affect
children whatever their social or economic background."
Alan Wells, the director of the BSA, said: "A lot of
relatively affluent parents buy themselves out of having to spend time
with their children. They buy all sorts of technological toys. To their
own thinking, they then don't have to give them too much attention." The
pamphlet urges parents to make sure they listen to their children as
well as talk to them. It says an improvement in children's communication
skills will have a knock-on effect in almost every other area of the
curriculum. "It's clear that children can't be expected to learn to read
and write unless they can first speak and listen," says Ms Palmer.
Why families don't talk any more:
- All-day television: Constant barrage of noise in
the home inhibits conversation.
- Changing work patterns: More households where both
parents are working and therefore have less time for children and less
- Buggy designs: The increasing popularity of
forward-facing pushchairs makes it more difficult for parents to talk
to young children.
- Separate rooms: Forty per cent of under-5s have
televisions in their bedrooms and the number is rising rapidly.
- Children's channels: Proliferation of television
channels specifically for children has resulted in more viewing.
Source: Basic Skills Agency, UK.
4 April 2006