By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine
Children are losing their imaginative powers, claims a group of child experts. Rubbish, says best-selling children's author, GP Taylor, they're just as creative as ever.
Best-selling author of Shadowmancer, Wormwood, Tersias
Previously worked as a roadie, policeman and vicar
Sold his motorbike to pay for his first book to be published
Junk food, junk television and endless hours playing computer games is stunting children's imaginations, suggests a group of academics, writers and experts on child development.
But are we really rearing a generation of sedentary zombies, more likely to be depressed than excited by the world around them?
No way, says one of the biggest names in children's literature, GP Taylor, who has counter blasted the doom-mongers.
Children are as full of life and creative as ever, he says, dismissing claims that just because technology changes that childhood must be lost in the process.
"It's nostalgic claptrap, it's tosh, this idea that we should go back to the 1950s. Because even in the 1950s, people were saying 'the radio is terrible, it's leading young people astray'," says Mr Taylor, who worked as a Church of England vicar before becoming a children's author.
Currently on a three-month tour of schools, where he is leading creative writing sessions, he says he does not recognise this picture of "dull and boring" children.
"Kids have got incredible imaginations - and I don't think for a minute that videogames, television and movies are dampening their imaginations - in fact, they're broadening their imaginations and developing their characters.
"Whatever is about at the time will stimulate children in different ways - and we can't say that if we're living in an age of videogames and television that it will turn our kids into mindless dweebs."
And he rejects the suggestion that the rise of computers must mean a corresponding decline in reading books.
"Reading is very, very important - out of everything, reading is the most important, but that's because I'm a writer, I'm biased. But I've just spent five hours in school talking about creative writing. I'm not finding what they're saying, children's imaginations are fertile and vivid.
"We talked about Lord of the Flies, CS Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Harry Potter, Michael Morpurgo, we've delved into these different writing styles. We did character work, plot work, storytelling, and one boy leapt to his feet and said that now he wanted to tell a story."
Those warning about the loss of childhood "must have watched too many episodes of Grumpy Old Men", he says.
Once billed as "hotter than Potter" when his children's novel Shadowmancer was number one on both sides of the Atlantic in 2004, Mr Taylor has been part of the huge boom in children's literature.
But he says that using technology does not undermine the appetite for books. His latest publication, Tizzle Sisters, will be an interactive package, with words, pictures, videogame and CD-Roms.
"We're going to release podcasts with it as well, for free, so they can listen to it on their iPods as well. It's not dumbing down - it's getting them to use their imagination."
And he is unimpressed by the suggestion that the current crop of children are being stifled by the way they live. Times change, cultures change, but it doesn't mean that childhood comes to a grinding halt, he says.
"It seems so knee-jerky, it's the old guard, trotting it out, saying 'oh woe is the world'. And it's not, I'm out there every day and the world is a fine place. The kids are as creative now as they ever have been."
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Thank goodness someone views this objectively. I just find it sad that common sense is deemed newsworthy.
Jill MacKay, Glasgow
I totally agree with Mr Taylor. My daughter has an equal interest in computer games television and reading books she is only six by the way.
She also uses the internet to research for books she wants to read. Dumbing down indeed
Robert Edgar, Aberdeen
Sorry, Mr Taylor, that's only one side of the story. Children have a better imagination for the most gory, grotesque, murderous, threatening activities. Those things that are lovely and beautiful and peaceful have been abandoned for the vile. Like it or lump it the media does play a role in it. Simple innocent pleasures with a pure motive are definitely out. I teach with children who have behavioural difficulties and that certainly is on the increase, and they can give you lots of ways to skin a cat, literally. The minds of this generation have been corrupted beyond belief.
Susanna Matthan, Lincolnshire
I completely agree with you! You've been able to say in the above article, what I find difficult to put into words. It's ridiculous that people think undermining children's confidence, is the way forward. Unfortunately this generation has it harder. The 'grumps' are now insisting that children be punished for being children, whilst on the other hand they lament that children are growing up too quickly!
My three kids are as full of imagination and creativity as I ever was - if not more so. They watch DVDs and the TV, and play on the computer, but also play together with other children. I think this study is yet another example of the 'good old days' mentality.
Chris Smith, Pewsey
This is very true. In the past children were made to work as adults as yound as 8 years old. My own parents were running the home by the age of 11. They didn't have time for imaginative games. Children nowadays have so many outlets and so many ways to develop their imagination, and also so much time to be free and use their imagination.
Maybe Mr. Taylor should spend some time with the various charities and childcare agencies whose full time jobs are to help children. When they warn of these things I am struck by how much evidence I see of it all the time. The problem with his experience is that he's going into schools as the celebrity highlight of the year so he'll only see the brightest pupils. Are the school authorities going to treat him to five hours with the education department's adolescent underclass? I don't think so. He needs to get real and open his eyes. He might spend time in schools but it's only a tiny fraction of the whole system that he sees. He's obviously a much better writer than social worker.
Simon Ward, Newcastle
Thank you for a sane voice. Round here the kids play in the streets and parks as much as they play with their technological gizmos. While you're at it, let's debunk the "millions of kids in the UK are in poverty" nonsense. You only have to watch "Who Do You Think You Are", eg the Barbara Windsor episode repeated recently, to see what REAL poverty was, only two or three generations ago. Yes, some families may be relatively poor, compared to the comfortably-off majority, but they're not shoeless and malnourished like many East End kids were as recently as the 1930s.
Ken Strong, Hornchurch
I agree with Mr Taylor, but his views are just one of many we get fed by the media. One group claims childhood is worse now than before, another claim it is better. Yet another claim it is because children don't get enough exercise due to a lack of facilities. Another claim that the streets aren't safe enough for children to play outside and get exercise. No wonder I don't believe what I read in the news. Most 'experts' are just underpaid academics expressing their own opinions, or findings based upon a select group of subjects.
On the whole, I would say it is claptrap, but parents all too often find it easier to entertain their children with computer games etc, rather than sit down with them and encourage them to read or 'invent' games. I am pro- progress, but also have an 'old fashioned' attitude to encouraging children to use their imagination and show them there is an alternative to computer games and DVD's etc.
Finally, a voice of common sense! I worked with kids in a summer school scheme a few years ago, where they spent two weeks writing, directing, starring in, and adding special effects to their own short film. The theme was 'time travel', and they came up the most amazing, varied, and humorous ideas (rather than leading the group, I ended up just managing the equipment). They were even sophisticated enough to poke fun at some Sci-Fi stereotypes.
Franchesca Mullin, Belfast
I grew up in the late 70s early 80s and was a telly (and later videogame) addict and I believe it improved my imagination. I wanted to read books like the Lord of the Rings after seeing the animated version in the cinema.
I have 4 year old twin boys who love tv, dvds, the cinema, computer games and having stories read to them. I encourage them to partake of all media because I truly believe it improves their imaginations and energy and is also an important social skill these days.
Ross Millar, Edinburgh
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