Cushioned lives 'holding back kids'
Kiwi children are over-protected, live in a virtual world and are less capable of shaping their futures than those living in war zones, according to a visiting expert.
Christoph Baker, of Unicef, was in Wellington yesterday to promote the organisation's Child Friendly Cities Initiative.
The programme, which began in 1996, fosters the rights and needs of youngsters aged up to 18 so they can play a bigger role in the development of local government policy.
Dr Baker, who is based in Italy, said "over-protectionism" of children was an obstacle to their healthy development.
"We are so caught up with making sure our kids are hyper-protected, we are getting caught in a loop where everything has to be under control ... but a child has to discover on his or her own what the limits are."
Children were more able to influence their environment in war-ravaged areas such as the Gaza Strip, where more than half the population is aged under 18.
"These kids are way ahead of all the kids who have these cushioned lifestyles [in the West] because they are taking their life into their own hands. It is these kids who often take on their own destiny.
"That's not what is happening in our super-affluent societies. It condemns them [children] to this virtual world which is there in front of their computer ... which often has negative messages."
Dr Baker said local councils should ask for, and listen to, the input of children so they could influence growth and come to love where they live.
"They need to get into participatory urban planning with children. Once you let the imagination of children run free, it is fantastic, the results you get back."
In Italy, it had led to public monuments being adopted by children who were responsible for maintenance and promotion through a contract with the local mayor.
In another project, the mayor of a small town listened to complaints from kindergarten kids who thought their school was painted in dull colours.
"The school became colourful with yellows, blues and greens. The whole village loved it."
Other goals of the initiative were to ensure children had safe drinking water, good healthcare and education, and were protected from exploitation, violence and abuse.
Dr Baker met city councillors and senior officers while in Wellington. He is the main speaker at the New Zealand Community Boards conference in Christchurch, which starts tomorrow.
The Dominion Post