2 Images of childhood and youth
Why consider images or representations of childhood and youth? To appreciate what is involved in the process of research, we first need to understand how we think about and view children and young people, and how images of them vary across time and cultures. The images of childhood and youth that we hold influence our opinions, judgements and values. This has a significant impact on the way we interact with children and young people, and also on the nature of the research we undertake. But where do these images come from? In this section, we examine images from a historical, cultural and social perspective and try to understand how they have influenced the views we hold today. One of the most important learning outcomes of this course is the ability to reflect on your own position, understanding your personal orientations to childhood and youth, and the sources that have influenced their formation.
Conceptualisations of childhood and youth
Take a few minutes to consider what the concepts of childhood and youth mean to you. Describe any images of children and young people that come to mind, however fleeting. They might be memories from your own childhood and youth, or images of your own or others’ children. Write down keywords that will help you remember these images so that you can reflect on them again after the next reading.
Your response to this activity will be based on your own experiences and therefore there are no right or wrong answers – it has been designed to encourage you to question how images influence how children and young people are represented. Some images that came to our minds when we did this ranged from ‘going to fetch fresh bread from the corner shop on my own before I started school’, ‘standing in a queue waiting for a bottle of revolting curdled milk at school break time’ to ‘learning to ride a bicycle with Granddad holding the saddle and running behind’. Spend a few moments now looking more closely at this selection of photographs of children and young people.
The images depict children and young people at different periods in history and in assorted cultural contexts. What can these images tell us about childhood and youth? Can they tell us anything about a child’s and/or a young person’s social class and culture, and about their emerging identity?
Childhood and youth are not universal terms. How children and young people experience childhood depends on a host of factors, e.g. personality, social circumstances, gender, age, ethnicity, religion and cultural background.