Empty vessels? Conceptualisation of ‘the child’ in parenting discourse Dr Pam Lowe Aston University Dr Geraldine Brady Coventry University
Outline The rise of parenting culture The ‘child’ in parenting culture The child as an empty vessel Children as social actors
Rise of parenting culture Relationship parents and children has always been seen as important Concerns about ‘failing’ parents reoccur ‘feckless poor’ overbreeding in the 19th century condition of evacuees during 2nd World War Today parenting is again see as both the cause of and solution to social problems
Rise of parenting culture Within current parenting discourse we can see three interrelated themes of importance Parenting as the determining factor Parents totally responsible for children’s health, education, behaviour etc Emphasis on intensive motherhood Parenting as a project aimed to achieve the ‘best outcomes ‘ Rise of parenting ‘science’ Parenting ‘rules’ using (and abusing) science
Rise of parenting culture As part of this culture ‘parenting programmes’ are seen as the policy solution to ‘problem’ parenting Parenting programmes ‘translate’ the science of parenting into practice Need to be considered as part of the individualisation of social issues within a neo-liberal public health discourse
The ‘child’ in parenting culture Parenting programmes seek to modify the parents behaviour Thus a child’s deviance is mostly (or even all) due to poor parenting practices Thus the child is a just a malleable compliant body whose life trajectory is to be decided by the actions and/or inactions of others.
The child as an empty vessel Within child development theories, the child is progresses: irrational to rational incompetence to competence asocial to social Socialisation is linked to development theory in producing ‘competent citizens’
The child as an empty vessel Alongside developmental and socialisation theories run more biologically determined ideas ‘Bad blood’ has been updated within the geneticisationof society to simplistic understandings of genetic causes Yet both genetic and developmental ideas also ignore the child ‘s role as social actor
The child as an empty vessel Child seen as the future of the nation Child’s bodies subjected to scrutiny measuring for deviation from standard norms Medicalisation of children’s behaviour Social class as mediator truant or school phobic child? Conditions individualised but (poor) parenting seen as potential cause and/or exacerbation
Children as social actors Previous research has revealed that children are social actors Play an active role in negotiating their own lives Parental/child relationship is reciprocal not unidirectional
Children as social actors Our previous research has shown: How sleep is negotiated between parents and children. Children understand their need for sleep but try to balance this with their desire for leisure time Children make strategic decisions around medication Understanding the impact of their bodies, and how it might impact on their chosen activities Children understand but may reject advice about sexual health Fully accepting that any consequences are from theri own actions.
Children as social actors Current discourse of parenting has a pervasive element of determinism Good parenting in / useful citizen out Ignores the child as a person within specific social and cultural circumstances
Summary Parenting polices have increasing levels of coercion and consequences Increasingly seen as the dominant cause of social problems But built on an understanding of children as a empty vessel
Summary Parenting discourse that regards children as empty vessels is a significant miscalculation Children are unique social beings and that a uniform approach is problematic The omission of full understanding of children will undermine the outcomes of this policy agenda Potentially serious implications for children and parents caught up in the policy