1 What do we mean by ‘children’s voices’?
What comes to mind when we think about ‘children’s voices’? Is it the school choir? This is not as silly as it sounds; many a conference has opened with a song by children, who then disappear leaving adults to the more ‘serious’ work.
But children are increasingly being involved at a more serious level and less for their entertainment, or tokenistic, value. They speak up in official government consultations, school councils, and meetings with decision makers, though how far their voices are really taken into account is questionable.
Or are we irritated by children’s voices? Do we wish the young people chatting outside our home would congregate elsewhere? Do we enjoy the buzz of school children discussing activities set by adults, but wish they would be quiet at other times? Do we separate best friends at school because they talk too much? Are we grateful for quiet children and the way they don’t disturb us? How do our views affect our interactions with children who are outspoken? Are children’s voices disturbing – to our peace, or to our ideas, values and beliefs? How far do we let them influence our own agendas?
Do we value differently the voices of different children? What about disabled children, children from single-parent families, children living in poverty, children in conflict with the law, ‘looked-after’ children, children from ethnic minority backgrounds? Or boys, girls and transgender children, and young people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual? Or children whose personal hygiene seems poor or whose taste in music is different from our own?
All these questions are relevant to how we listen to children and how we respond to what we hear: ‘voice’ is socially constructed.
The questioning of taken-for-granted assumptions about children and childhood is central ... to the project of enquiring into children’s own perspectives on, and experiences of, their worlds.
Activity 1 Children’s voices in action
Over the next few days, observe occasions when children and young people are allowed to comment on situations and issues. These might be in your own home, in public, or in the media. Note the situation and issues concerned and when, where, and how children’s voices are expressed. What audience are they addressing? How far are their voices accorded power and granted validity in these situations? What do you think about the children and what they said?
Ask someone you know what they think about children’s voices, and share your own perspectives. Explore how you have both arrived at your views. Note the answers down.
When we did this, we noted how infrequently children and young people were asked to comment on issues affecting them, for example in news reports about education, climate change, or child protection. It was difficult to find occasions when children were given time to express their views and explore them in depth. Often, children were asked to choose between given views, rather than being given the opportunity to say freely what they thought.
The importance of recognising direct experience and the need to guard against children being encouraged to map onto stereotypes rather than value their own view of the world seem obvious but, as yet, have not informed practice as extensively as they should have done.