Children These Days

Publication Date01 Nov 2006
AuthorSonia Jackson
SubjectEducation,Health & social care,Sociology
Journal of Childrens Services
Volume 1 Issue 3 November 2006
©Pavilion Journals (Brighton) Ltd
What is it like to grow up in England today? How do
‘ordinary’ children and adults see each other and
their relationships? Is England a child-friendly society,
or is it really true, as a third of those questioned for
this book believed, that the English love their dogs
more than their children? There is ambivalence in the
way that people feel about children, which is
reflected in the title. It can be taken simply to mean
the nature of childhood in the early twenty-first
centurybut, with a different emphasis, it could also
have a more negative tone, echoing the feelings of
some adults that children now are over-indulged and
undisciplined: Well, I believethat because of the lack
of discipline and everything else that thereis in the
schools and the general way they are brought up we
tend to let them rule the roost. Toys, clothes,
playthings – demand and they get’ (p57).
The evidence presented here is drawn from two
attitude surveys: a shortquestionnairecompleted by
over 2,000 children in primary and secondary
schools, and face-to-face interviews with 507 adults
carried out by the British Market Research Bureau
(BMRB). Findings are grouped thematically, and each
chapter is framed by a section drawing on the
relevant literature and setting the policy context and
by a concluding summary. The book is written in an
easy, non-technical style and the results presented
graphically, which should make the information more
accessible to those who are not statistically minded.
Organising such a large volume of material into a
coherent form, however, must have presented a
considerable challenge. The concept underlying the
analysis is that children are actively involved in the
construction of their own social lives and the
societies they live in. Like Mayall (2002) and Brannen
(2004), Nicola Madge considers that generation is a
dimension of social organisation as important as
class, gender and ethnicity in understanding children
and childhood. She suggests that there is much less
of a generation gap today than there was, for
example, in the 1950s, particularly in relation to sex
and gender roles, leisure activities and decision-
making. Another major change is that the boundaries
between childhood and adulthood are far less clearly
defined than they used to be. With universal access
to the media, adults have lost their control of
information. The transition to work at the end of
compulsoryschooling can no longer be taken for
granted, and for many young people education in
some form continues into their twenties. They may
liveat home with their parents but are unlikely to
acknowledge parental authority to the extent that
they did in the past.
Although demographic data werecollected for the
purposes of ensuring a sample representativeof the
population, the only variables used in the analysis
wereage, gender and ethnicity.The children were
divided into four groups: younger and older primary
school age and younger and older secondary. The
adults werecategorised as parents or non-parents.
Ethnicity was defined as ‘whiteor ‘other’. The
problem with these broad categories is that they have
ahomogenising effect, so that relatively few of the
findings are clear-cut and a high proportion fall into
the middle band. For example, ‘Do parents and carers
over-protect their children?’ Half of the secondary
school children answered, sensibly, Some do and
some don’t’.Overall this creates a rather bland
effect. The information on social class (referred to as
‘social grade’) was not used in the analysis but we
know from other sources that attitudes on many
issues are closely related to socio-economic status,
and it seems likely that this may also be true of
attitudes to children. The ‘media’ are frequently
mentioned as an important influence, especially in
relation to negative images of teenagers, but are
similarly undifferentiated.
Reassuringly, the picture that emerges from this
book is that most children are reasonably happy,
despite some things they would like to change.
Thereis also a surprisingly high level of agreement
between young people and adults on most topics.
Book reviews
Children These Days
Nicola Madge
Bristol: The Policy Press, 2006
169pp, £17.99 paperback
ISBN 10 1 86134 783 9

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