Children’s experiences and conceptualisations of child-adult relations within, and beyond, their families
Milne, Susan Elaine
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This study explored children’s experiences and perceptions of adults and child-adult relations and relationships. Child-adult relations involve the conceptualisation of adults and children as distinct social groups and child-adult relationships are inter-personal relationships between individuals that cross the boundary between these groups. The focus of this study was children’s contacts and relationships with adults and how these relationships informed children’s constructions of child-adult relations. The study took place in the context of concern about distance between child and adult worlds generating negative stereotypes and distrust between the two social groups and an interest in children’s perspectives. A multi-stage, multi-method study was undertaken with children aged 10/11 years living in the relatively deprived, ‘Social Inclusion Partnership’ (SIP), areas of a Scottish city. A period of familiarisation, through participant observation, was undertaken with Year 6 children in one school, followed by paired and individual interviews with 17 children. A survey was then conducted with 375 children in primary schools across the SIP areas. In general it seemed that ‘relationships’ with individual adults, other than with parents, were not particularly important to the children, who, with a few exceptions, did not seek out such adults and generally indicated a preference for spending time with other children. However, knowing and being able to identify adults within and beyond their families was very important to children’s sense of self and to their feelings of belonging to a family and within a neighbourhood. The children did experience their worlds and those of adults as separate. Mobility beyond their neighbourhood without adult accompaniment, to visit swimming pools, cinemas, and retail facilities, provided children with opportunities to observe and experience a range of ‘unknown’ adults, and particularly ‘public workers’. This experientially confirmed their conceptualisations of adults as a separate social group occupying a higher status than children. The research process in itself indicated that in some circumstances children did have an interest in interacting with adults, and that time, negotiation, testing and trusting were part of the relationship forming process. The child-adult relationships formed in this study through engagement in ‘joint enterprises’, of play and research project, provide evidence for the possibilities of positive ‘generational proximity’ between children and adults.