Planning Neighbourhoods for young families urgently needs Social Psychologists

I found this website informative about the way new suburbs are planned and built. As a middle-aged mother and grandparent, I recognise recent drastically changed social and cost pressures on younger married couples. Judging by the current results, Planners and Developers of new Residential areas who should be Accountable to the Community for outcomes need to be obliged to completely re-evaluate what is being formally approved and provided.

Social Psychologists that are able to objectively assess social behaviours, forecast trends, and explain implications for planning responses must therefore be much more involved in planning of new housing areas.-

New non-traditional lifestyles have emerged to be almost universal amongst young people. These are continuing into and having negative consequences on their parenting and are surprisingly similar amongst different income groups. The impact on young children of those, combined with out-of-date planning concepts, will result in – a rapid decline of inter-personal communication, social alienation, community disruption and health and welfare of our evolving new generations.

I volunteer my own thoughts below – based on observing and chatting informally with parents with young children over many months, including in several different new housing areas.-

Typically young new parents today (as anyone can observe), have experienced continuous self-gratifying absorption with entertainment; and the universally connected mobile devices that ‘DINK’ couples are habituated to.  Children come along, intentionally or not, but instead of an immediate change of habit, this absorption has already become such a compulsive obsession, that it continues.-

Mothers with prams can now be seen any day, sometimes alone with their children, sometimes with other parents, but all pre-occupied with hand held devices – while their children are frequently ignored and run wildly amok in an often futile attempt to get parental attention. Alternatively in cafés, to distract them, the children will often be given a Pad – then be fully focused on interactive cartoons, quiet and absorbed. “Aren’t they smart” one hears, but in fact seem inadvertently to be in training to be unaware of surroundings – and usually if chatted-to, have poor verbal conversational skills for their age.

Even in the few supposed ‘play areas,’ adult devised commercial ‘play area’ equipment, actually designed to minimise risk, presents few challenges either physical or to child imagination and serves mainly parental  purposes as somewhere familiar to take the kids; probably to allow them to sit down and chat with other parents (while they compare Aps on hand-held devices !)

So children quickly get bored and return to try to get parent attention, but then find the same pre-occupied parent – probably absorbed in chatting with another, each with a ‘coffee to go’ they have bought on the way there, or enthusing over  the latest Aps on their phones.  The result then is that children are being brought up to become un-supported, self-centred, pre-occupied creatures in a neglectful and largely ‘virtual’ world, probably unable to socialise later; and with few opportunities for physical development.

Maybe that is just what it looks like away from home?  But no! – At home the same pattern continues – more focus on similar but now larger screen devices. Young children, who normally have limited attention span, get a regular diet of this adult-created entertainment. They really need to be active, escape parental vision and interact with other children outside their own family, but they usually have nowhere to escape-to and discover things for themselves?-

At home, blocks on these new estates are tiny, crammed together on cleared sand patches, too small for free outdoor play space; and internal space is bland and boring, added to that new parents are often obsessively risk-averse even at home. The typical new suburban areas have no easy walking access to communal free adventure and water-play areas, or sports facilities (and even the very few of those available are usually a car journey away from home).

No trees to climb or hidden places to explore, even the kids have been brain-washed and scared to venture out of sight.  They fail to learn how to be street-smart; have no opportunity to ‘discover’ for themselves; or with their friends to develop their physical and mental capabilities and extend their personal limits through creative adventure play.  (Being ‘scared’ occasionally through minor misadventure, is an essential component of learning life-skills).

I see now that this restricted childhood lifestyle is actually being reinforced and deliberately planned by commercial developers and actually authorised by Planning Authorities in new suburban neighbourhoods! That is truly ridiculous and must urgently be changed – these children represent our future for goodness sake!

Maybe young families don’t have to choose these estates you say?  But developers use highly sophisticated marketing techniques – glimpses of small artificially constructed ponds /‘lakes’, immaculate lawns etc. all presented by wide-angle photography and photo-montage; yet these are probably the (I gather obligatory 10%) only open space in the entire neighbourhood that most kids will see, as their parents will have to drive them everywhere. Convenience shopping, pre-schools, clinics and any form of community activity are usually not planned to be local, but several kilometres away. – Result – more cars needed/ more driving/ more traffic congestion!

But what of the grandparents you ask – what are they doing to help?  Well instead of grandparents being willingly accepted as early parenting mentors, maybe since they ‘aren’t up with the latest Aps,’ and even if they gently proffer advice, that is frequently rejected as    “you’re are out of date, don’t understand”  and welcomed only as convenient child-sitters – to allow young parents to escape back into their entertainment rich virtual world.)

Bring on professional social psychologists I say, not just employ them, but put them in charge of Planning new Residential Areas – and we might then see some serious relevance emerge!.

If that’s too drastic, we must at least get them strongly involved in new Residential area Planning – (and with young parents also, to help wean them off their virtual worlds and get a grip on sensible parenting responsibilities!) – that would be a win-win outcome for everyone.

I J Thorn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *