“Our distorted perception of young people creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: why bother to try when you are told that you are a failure? Why bother to strive when your existence is seen as a nuisance?”
–Clinical Child Psychologist Dr. Tanya Byron
Clinical Child Psychologist and Youth Advocate
In a 2009 article written for the Guardian, she pointed out that society seems to have a fear of children, which she calls ephebiphobia, or the fear of youth. Her advocacy of youth includes calling for a more individualized educational system rather than one that encourages what she calls a herd mentality. Overcrowded classrooms can lead to mob behavior that increases society’s fear of youth. In her view, under the current system, nearly all young people could be classified as at-risk.
One Clinical Child Psychologist’s View of the Educational System
Ironically, in the view of this clinical child psychologist, part of being at-risk is the result of overprotective parents responding to media sensationalism and wanting to protect their children from dangers such as violent crime. Such protection comes at the cost of the risk-taking that is necessary to experience life fully. In an interview, she expressed concern that parents “are removing the possibility for children to learn how to be emotionally resilient.” She is equally concerned that the system rewards high scores on tests, which has the effect of preventing teachers from creating more innovative teaching methods and students from learning valuable independent thinking skills.
Due to these concerns as a clinical child psychologist, in 2007, she headed an independent review sponsored in part by the Department for Children, Schools and Family which researched the effects of internet and video games on children’s mental health. The results, referred to as the Byron Review, were published with the title “Safer Children in a Digital World” in 2008. Her advocacy for youth includes providing an educational alternative in the form of Edge Hill University, where she is a Professor of Public Understanding of Science, as well as serving as the school’s first chancellor. A patron of Prospex, North London charity which works with young people, she also partners in a media company. In her first book, The Skeleton Cupboard: The Making of a Clinical Psychologist, published in April of this year, she recounts many of the most interesting cases she has encountered during her career.
A New Age of Enlightenment
One of the most interesting things about Ms. Byron is that, even as a clinical child psychologist, she questions current definitions of sanity and insanity in light of recent social trends. For example, in addition to questioning the effectiveness of the current educational system, she also believes that litigation and paranoia abound in Western society. Further she questions the wisdom of only rewarding “success´, for which society bestows high marks to students and money to adults, when failure is often a much better teacher. In her view, risk-taking is the key to both personal growth and positive social change. As humanity moves from the industrial to the technological age, positive change is something that many of our institutions are in need of if we are to make a successful transition into a new age of enlightenment.