Channel 4 has defended a ‘bold and ambitious’ show which looks at how children as young as eight would cope living without their parents for a fortnight.

Boys And Girls Alone has drawn comparisons with Channel 4’s Big Brother and sees children upset, tussling, squabbling and feeling “picked on”.

The broadcaster said the show features bickering and disagreements and “the kind of tussling you’d get in any playground” – but no physical violence.

It said that one boy pointed a knife and fork during the series, but emphasised that no one was in any danger.

The programme lets 10 boys and 10 girls aged between eight and 11 experience life without their parents for two weeks.

Living in two separate villages, they create their own mini-societies and decide everything about how they live – what they do, what they eat, when they get up, if they clean and wash up and how they organise and entertain themselves.

The Daily Mirror quoted Labour MP Denis MacShane as saying: “Children should be protected and not exploited for commercial gain.”

And Liz Carnell of charity Bullying UK told the newspaper: “This just sounds like Big Brother Junior.”

Those behind the show said the four-part series, which begins on Tuesday, comes as many fear modern society is making children grow up too quickly, while others are convinced of a nation of “cotton wool kids”.

The programme looks at whether living in a safe environment, the children will be able to get along and cope without adults telling them what to do.

Get exclusive access to your favourite stars. Subscribe to TV Times magazine