Children today face too much "pressure to achieve" and have to take too many tests at school, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has said.
Dr Williams has concerns over the state of modern childhood
Speaking as the Children's Society began an inquiry into the state of childhood, he said a ban on adverts aimed at children should be considered.
He pointed to statistics suggesting one in 10 children had been shown to have measurable mental health problems.
But the Department for Education said children "coped well" with tests.
Returning to work
The archbishop said parenting skills should also be promoted, so parents could share their problems rather being dictated to by experts.
He raised concerns about a number of factors which he felt added pressure to children's lives - including commercial and educational pressures.
"The whole thing about pester power for children, which of course advertising colludes with so often, needs challenging."
He felt there was too much emphasis on mothers returning to work.
Dr Williams said while child protection laws were needed to safeguard children, they produced a "bureaucratic" maze that discouraged volunteers.
He described the investigation of Cherie Blair after she gave a teenager a playful slap as "completely ridiculous."
On the matter of tests, a Department for Education spokeswoman said: "National tests are an integral part of effective teaching and learning, helping to identify pupils that need extra support as well as those with talents that need to be stretched.
"Teachers are well accustomed to ensuring that their children know what to expect and can cope well with the tests."
A Children's Society survey found that 93% of 14 to 16-year-olds questioned said their carers or parents cared about them, but only 63% thought their parents understood them.
The 11,000 questionnaire responses also found that 24% said they had "sometimes" been bullied or "picked on" because of who they were.
The charity is concerned about rising levels of child depression in the UK.
It said the inquiry would be the UK's first independent national investigation into all aspects of childhood, amid growing concern over the health and quality of children's lives.
Bob Reitmeier, the chief executive of the charity, said: "Our starting point is essentially that we think childhood and the way in which children experience childhood has changed dramatically even since we were children.
"It is time to stop, reflect and say, with all these changes taking place, is it time to review how we look at childhood and its status?"
However, fertility expert Lord Winston said: "It's all very well to say that childhood depression in greatly on the increase but there's no data to support that, which why an initiative like this would be useful.
"But it is important to point out this is the first such study of its kind.
"The very fact that previous studies have not been done means that we don't have anything to compare the present time with."
Mr Reitemeier said the inquiry would take about a year and a half, and would involve bringing together a panel of experts to look at particular themes in childhood.
People will be encouraged to contribute their views on what makes for a good childhood in today's society.
The archbishop's comments come a week after dozens of teachers joined children's authors and psychologists to write a letter to the Daily Telegraph, in which they highlighted "the escalating incidence of childhood depression".