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Call to end 'erosion of childhood'

Children are growing up too quickly because of a combination of early testing in school, advertising, bad childcare, and a reliance on computer games and television, experts have warned.

The group of over 200 teachers, academics, authors, charity leaders and other experts have written to the Daily Telegraph to call for people to come together to "interrupt the erosion of childhood".

The group includes novelist Philip Pullman, Oxford University neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, and emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics Lord Layard.

They write: "Our children are subjected to increasing commercial pressures, they begin formal education earlier than the European norm, and they spend ever more time indoors with screen-based technology, rather than in outdoor activity. The time has come to move from awareness to action.

"We call on all organisations and individuals concerned about the erosion of childhood to come together to achieve the following: public information campaigns about children's developmental needs, what constitutes 'quality childcare', and the dangers of a consumerist screen-based lifestyle; the establishment of a genuinely play-based curriculum in nurseries and primary schools up to the age of six, free from the downward pressure of formal learning, tests and targets; community-based initiatives to ensure that children's outdoor play and connection to nature are encouraged, supported and resourced within every local neighbourhood, and the banning of all forms of marketing directed at children up to at least age seven."

The letter comes five years after many of the same experts wrote to the newspaper urging the Government to stop children being poisoned by the modern world.

Their comments led to an inquiry into the state of childhood by the Children's Society, which was concerned about rising levels of depression among youngsters in the UK. But the group believe that "the erosion of childhood in Britain has continued apace since 2006".

They concluded: "It is everyone's responsibility to challenge policy-making and cultural developments that entice children into growing up too quickly - and to protect their right to be healthy and joyful natural learners."

The letter was circulated by Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at Roehampton University's Research Centre for Therapeutic Education. Other signatories include childcare expert Dr Penelope Leach, clinical psychologist Oliver James and ex-London Schools Commissioner Sir Tim Brighouse.

Dr House told the Telegraph: "The inexorable momentum of modern technological life is such that despite the awareness raised through the September 2006 Telegraph open letter on toxic childhood, matters have improved very little since then."

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