Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Who’s got the power? Power relations between parents and young children

CRFR international conference blog #CRFR2013
Eija Sevón is presenting a paper at the CRFR international conference, 10-12 June 2013 Paper Session 3, Tuesday 11 June

Parental authority or, more precisely, the lack of it, has been a recent public debate in Finland. My interest lies in an attempt to understand child-parent relations from the perspective of young children aged 5 and 6.

The focus of my paper lies in how we understand ideas of control, structure, discipline, setting of limits, power and governance that have emerged from a range of disciplinary approaches to the study of parent-child relations.

It has been argued that an increased understanding of children’s rights has made relations between parents and children more democratic. At the same time, the family as an institution has been depicted as suppressing children’s voices and decision making, as power and the right to speak have tended to remain the prerogative of adults. This generational ordering of relations between children and adults challenges us to think about and understand power relations between children and parents, and how to study them from the viewpoint of young children.

My conference presentation is based on my research project on family relationships and parenting in everyday life from the perspective of children (funded by the Academy of Finland). The aim is to better understand how young children describe and make sense of their daily family lives and parenting, and to hear their views on parental control and negotiations between children and parents. The participants were 15 young children aged 5 and 6 who created stories about challenging situations and negotations between children and parents using a story-telling method.

The children’s stories relate adult-child power relations of three different kinds.
The first is the power of parental authority which requires children’s obedience; the second is negotiated power and agreements, and the third is the power of resistance.
Children’s decisions to resist parental authority shows them to be active agents who
interpret, creatively participate in, mould and resist the rules and norms of adult culture.

The children’s stories reveal their dependence on adults,  but also challenge ideas of children’s dependency and lack of power. In my presentation I want to share the children’s stories and to discuss the validity and plausibility of the interpretations of the children's stories about power relations with adults.

Eija Sevón Department of Education, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Alanen, L. 2003. Childhoods: the generational ordering of social relations. In B. Mayall & H.
Zeiher (Eds.) Childhood in generational perspective. Univeristy of London: Institute of Education, 27-45.
Corsaro, W. 1997. The sociology of childhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Kuczynski, L. & Navara, G. S. 2006. Sources of innovation and change in socialization,
internalization and acculturation. In M. Killen & J. Smetana (Eds.) Handbook of moral development. New York: Psychology Press (reprinted 2010), 299-327.

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