Critical Issues Affecting Childhood


While promoting a broad range of policies and practices essential to children’s well-being, the Alliance for Childhood works intensively on a few critical issues. Among these are the loss of creative play and hands-on activities in children’s lives, and the excessive amounts of time spent in front of screens instead of in face-to-face engagement with other children, caring adults, and the natural world. We also work against the commercialization of childhood, the misuse of high-stakes testing, and increasing levels of childhood obesity.


Restoring Play: Play initiated and directed by children should be a rich and vital part of every child’s life. It enhances cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development and well-being. The Alliance works with other organizations and individuals in a multi-pronged campaign to restore play.


Media and Childhood: Today’s children spend far less time than earlier generations in face-to-face engagement with other children, caring adults, and the natural world. The lure of electronic entertainment diminishes active play and work and the learning of hands-on skills, all of which support children’s healthy development and prepare them for the workplace. When it comes to advanced technologies in childhood, the losses often outweigh the gains.

The Alliance’s reports and position statements on technology and children have sparked a national debate. Parents, educators, and policymakers around the world have begun to ask searching questions about the potential dangers of a high-tech childhood. Our goal is more balanced and reasoned public discourse about the changes that technology has created in modern childhood.


High Stakes Testing Project: Public schools have seen a dramatic increase in standardized testing as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and, more generally, public acceptance of testing as an equitable way to make schools "accountable." The new tests invariably carry high stakes—that is, the results are linked to serious consequences for students, teachers, and schools. Most Americans believe that linking test results to rewards and punishments is an effective way to force schools to improve, even though research indicates that using tests in this way has the opposite effect, worsening academic performance and increasing dropout rates.


Commercialization of Childhood: Marketing to children has proliferated wildly since it was deregulated by Congress in the 1980s. Approximately $15 billion is spent each year marketing toys, food, and entertainment to children. Children under 19 themselves spend $200 billion per year; children under 12 influence another $500 billion per year in family spending. No longer limited to TV ads, marketers now continually bombard children with ploys in their homes, neighborhoods, and schools. The Alliance partners with 25 other organizations in the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.


Peace Education: In the months following September 11, 2001 the Alliance created several resources about educating children for peace, including a list of ten simple but effective actions that families and schools can take. Ten Steps for Peace Education has been reprinted in many publications.


Childhood Obesity: In May 2003 the Alliance hosted a briefing on childhood obesity for the U.S. Senate at the request of Senator Mary Landrieu. Presenters included Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston, a school chef from Vermont, and representatives from the Urban Nutrition Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, which teaches nutrition and gardening in inner-city schools in Philadelphia.

In its work on restoring childhood play, the Alliance notes evidence that children burn far more calories during active play, especially outdoors, than in sedentary activities. There is also evidence that strongly links time spent in front of TV and computer screens with increased risk of obesity.