We often hear our Nan’s tell us that childhood today is nothing like it was back when they were growing up. In their eyes the children of yesteryear were happier, healthier, better educated and more imaginative. Within this paper I am going to compare their golden years of youth to that of the children we are raising today. The National Health Care System (NHS) that we have today was founded in 1948 and is funded by the taxpayer.
The NHS is free to anyone who is in need of medical treatment. The free treatment for children includes dental care, optometry, and free prescriptions. Before the NHS was founded access to medical treatment was only free to workers on a low income, this did not necessarily include their families. Middle-income workers and their families received no free care and were required to pay up front for treatment. The health care for children today is far better than that of Nan’s generation.
An NHS study shows that in the United Kingdom today 10% of six year olds and 17% of fifteen year olds are diagnosed as clinically obese.2 Contributing factors of child obesity today include; fast food restaurants, readily available junk food, and less active children. Today children spend less time outside and mainly entertain themselves by watching TV and playing computer/video games. While the children of yesteryear had more active childhoods, playing outside, it was often cut short by the need to work. Children today enjoy the luxury of compulsory education until they are sixteen.
By the age of sixteen many children in the 1940’s had already started their adult careers. It wasn’t until 1933 that a legal minimum working age was set in the United Kingdom to thirteen. Even though this law was passed over seventy years ago it is still the foundation for child labor laws today. While Nan’s generation may not have faced the problem of obesity, they suffered food shortages and childhoods cut short by the need to work. Even though neither generation has been able to find the perfect formula for a healthy childhood we are trying to learn from the past and teach children to eat healthier and to live a more active lifestyle.
Children of Nan’s generation were more imaginative than today’s children. Today, children are entertained with shop bought toys. While many of these toys are educational they do not require much imagination. They would rather be indoors-playing computer/video games, Barbie’s, and board games rather than playing outside. Toys were scarce and mostly made from scraps of material at home in the 1940’s. Children entertained themselves by learning crafts that would help them in adulthood. For example girls would learn crocheting, knitting, and cooking, while boys would learn carpentry and gardening. They also entertained themselves by playing outside. Games like cops and robbers, solders, hospital, and house required a lot of imagination. Although children today have more toys it was Nan’s generation that had more imagination. Today we would benefit from teaching our children to think more for themselves.
The education system today is also very different than that of Nan’s generation. Today children between the ages of five and eleven attend primary school. They then attend secondary school, until they are sixteen and complete year twelve when they take the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examinations. The GSCE evaluates student’s knowledge in up to five subjects. After completing their GSCEs they can choose to stay on until the age of eighteen, when they can complete their A Level examinations. Alternatively children, can choose to join the adult work force after completing their GSCEs. In the 1940’s the only mandatory school was for children was between the ages of five and thirteen.3 When they were eleven years old they would take the 11plus exam that would determine their next educational step.
This exam was only based on English and arithmetic. Children who passed the exam would attend grammar school. At grammar school those children would study for their O-Level exams, which were similar to today’s GCSEs. If they did not pass the 11plus exam they could attend a Secondary Modern School where they would take a four-year course, earning a School Leaving Certificate on completion. This education prepared them to join the working world. Students who excelled at Secondary Modern School could attend a Secondary Technical School where they would receive an education that emphasized specialized technical subjects. The education systems are drastically different because they were preparing children for completely different working worlds. Today children need a much broader education base if they are going to be successful in the adult world.
While we like to remember our childhood as a perfect time in our lives, we can see that there are pros and cons for all generations. The challenges of raising children today may be different than those our Nan’s faced however, we can benefit from some of their experiences to raise a better generation for tomorrow.