Back in early 1970s South London, I used to drag my self from bed, throw on clothes and some breakfast down my gullet, get on my bike and cycle to Elmers End News. Where, as generations of children before me had done, I picked up a bag of newspapers and shoved them through a load of doors. As it happens the round I did took me back over the railway bridge and past the cricket club (holding my nose at the stench from the paint factory and tannery) almost to home. I then got into my school uniform and cycled to school in SE19.
There was nothing unusual about all this, it was what loads of other children did. For sure there were some who had other jobs - milk rounds, serving in shops, washing cars at the garage, helping on a market stall. But children worked. In my case it was simple - once I was 13 and could get a paper round there was no more pocket money (as an aside my last pocket money amount was 12p).
Apparently all this wasn't a useful exercise in self-organising and an introduction to work but an offence to my rights:
Turning to newspaper delivery rounds, it said that “allowing children to work before school begins in the morning is, in principle, contrary” to the charter, because it puts at risk their “attendance, receptiveness and homework”.
This 'charter' is the European Social Charter (and before you all get anti-EU on me, this was signed by the UK in 1961 long before we joined that awful organisation) and it has apparently been captured by the 'wrap children in cotton wool' school of thinking along with the deranged idea that making children do anything is some sort of imposition rather than an education.
We live in a world where parents are told that just beyond their sight is a terrible dark place filled with stranger danger, with poisonous plants, with trees that might be climbed, with bicycles ridden dangerously without brakes down steep hills. The idea that an eight year old could safely walk half a mile to a bus stop, get on a bus across town and walk another few hundred yards to school - on his own (or with his nine-year-old sister) would horrify both our fussy authorities and most modern parents. Yet that is what I did every day of school - as did many other children.
And the idea that it infringes a teenager's rights to do an hour's work before school (so as to get a little money for the teenager to spend on sweets, comics, games, trips and records) is such manifest nonsense it makes one wonder what sort of weird old world the people who sit on the European Committee on Social Rights inhabit. I do know, however, that what we see is people who respond to everything they dislike with proposals for a ban, for restrictions, for controls. Instead of an exciting world for children to explore, these people see a world from which children must be protected. Until that day, after the hangover has passed from the 18th birthday party (although our social rights fascists almost certainly disapprove of drinking), when blinking and naive the fully fledged grown up is thrown into that big ole world to make his or her own way.
We damage children more by 'protecting' them, restricting their play, limiting their chances to learn about work and managing their social interactions to the extent that they become stultified, the very antithesis of fun. Everywhere we go there are signs designed to close off the world from children - don't climb trees, don't go on the grass, don't play ball games, don't run, don't sing, don't cross, don't do this, don't do the other. There are no signs that say please play here, have fun, take a risk or two, swim, run, laugh and dance.
Instead we see people who behave like the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - corralling children into a dull, purposeful programme of approved activities monitored by the agents of those authorities. Much of the effort here is dedicated to creating obedient little unchallenging conformists. And what we create are a bunch of snowflakes who demand safe spaces, who cry at criticism and who would rather ban free speech than accept that some people are unpleasant or rude. Disagreement is dealt with not through a handshake and "we'll talk about this again" but by one or other party running off to cuddle a teddy bear while listening to calming whale sounds.
"Ban everything, ban it now - for the children" is one of the most corrupting approaches to social policy ever. It creates weak-willed, dependent people who believe they've some sort of right never to be challenged, never to be upset and certainly never to be offended. And it is used - again and again - to control both the transition to being a grown up and to stop grown up people from doing things of which the controlling authorities disapprove. Don't drink - for the sake of the children. Don't smoke - the children, you know. Don't eat fat, salt or sugary foods - think what you're doing to the children.
None of this protects children. All it does is reinforce again the process of creating supine, subservient masses who, in the manner of Huxley's 'Brave New World', gladly accept authoritarianism - "for the good of the children".