Conference Agenda

JS_RN04_RN13_02: Parenting, Childhood, Scheduling and Time
Wednesday, 21/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Cath Larkins, University of Central Lancashire
Location: GM.333
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road


‘Helicopter Parenting’ As A Social Problem

Ellie Jane Lee

University of Kent, United Kingdom

A tension central to modern Western childhood is that between protection and autonomy. From the point of view of scholarship concerned with parenting cultures, recent decades emerge as increasingly dominated by an ethos of protection in a particular form. Understanding of risk, it has been argued, has qualitatively modified, to mean childhood experiences considered previously innocuous or even beneficial to the development of autonomy have come to be associated with harm. In turn, the responsibility of the parent has simultaneously expanded in line with a perceived need to protect by managing childhood risk. ‘Parenting’ as a term has been understood from this perspective to include connotations of self-consciousness in the part of parents regarding the need to risk-manage, as well as a required openness to professionalised accounts of risk.

In this context, the growing visibility of the terms ‘overparenting’ and ‘helicopter parenting’ this century appear notable. This paper will consider this development drawing on methodologies developed in the sociology of social problems (Best 2008) and presenting a qualitative media analysis of ‘helicopter parenting’ in the British media 1992-2019. The central question considered is whether claims about parents who ‘helicopter’ or who are ‘overinvolved’ in their children’s lives challenge the prevailing understandings of risk. It will be argued that evidence points less to a reconstruction of childhood entailing a greater emphasis on autonomy, than continuation of the demand that parents manage risk, albeit in a reworked form. ​

Off We Go to a Bright Independent Future: Social Mobility, Educational Aspirations for Children, and Middle-Class Parenting in Urban China

Meng Chen1, Di Zhu2

1Shanghai University, China; 2Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China

This study assesses how perceptions and practices of parenting in Chinese middle-class families have evolved in the past decades under the dual influence of marketization and globalization. Drawing on Bourdieu and Lareau, the paper argues that parenting practice is not only affected by the habitus that has been inherited from one’s origin family, but shaped by their experience of social mobility as well as educational aspirations for children. Based on semi-structured in-depth interviews with parents of preschool and school-age children, I emphasize the importance of connecting the past and the future in understanding the current parenting practices. While Chinese middle-class parents have different experiences of social mobility, their parenting practices tend to be similarly affected by their perceptions of their current socio-economic situation and, for some, experiences of upward mobility. Intergenerational transmission of parenting styles is subject to the force of change that results from middle-class parents’ reflections and their intentional or unintentional practices of ‘doing middle-class’. Furthermore, with fierce neo-liberalist educational competition and an increasingly wide range of educational options in the context of globalization, child-rearing practices of the middle-class parents are clearly shaped by their educational expectations for children. For middle-class families, although the aim of child-rearing is often simplified as ‘bringing up the child to an independent person’, parenting practices are often adapted to serve the goal of realizing the educational expectations.

‘I Think Life Experience is Just as Important as Education Really’: Mothers’ Understanding of Primary School Children’s Well-Being in Education and After-School Activities.

Emma Head

Keele University, United Kingdom

This paper draws on a qualitative project with mothers of primary school children in England to explore maternal understandings of children’s well-being in relation to formal school and leisure time. Education is a sphere where forces of globalisation are being felt in terms of the measurement of children, schools and nation states. The concern with the ‘performance’ and outcomes of children has meant that formal education has become an area where norms of ‘good’ parenting as intensive parenting are communicated to children and their parents. Alongside these shifts, children’s leisure time has also changed in recent years. There has been a decline in freely accessible public spaces for families; rising anxieties about children and time on screen; and an increasing marketisation of sport, music and other activities for children.

I draw on mothers’ narratives of schooling and after-school activities to consider how education and leisure are understood to impact on children’s well-being in different ways. Lareau’s (2002) work on childhood and her idea of ‘concerted cultivation’ have been influential on understandings of after-school activities as part a middle-class concern with securing the social position and future prospects of their children. The accounts from my study suggest a multiplicity of reasons for engagement with after-school activities for working- and middle-class mothers. For some mothers, how children spend their leisure time is understood as providing alternative experiences to the increasingly target-driven formal education system and becomes a significant part of family life. I conclude this paper by considering how the demands of schooling and leisure time impact on the well-being of mothers and their children.

Free From School In The Child's Best Interest

Pauline Marie-Sophie Proboeuf

Sciences Po, France

Both sociologist of the family and of education have taken a strong interest in the educational practices implemented by families: from parental strategies regarding school choices to the importance of parents’ socioeconomic background on children’s educational outcomes. However, few studies have investigated the interrelation between educational choices and other life choices. By examining a particular population, parents who decide to homeschool their children, I hope to fill this gap. Parents decide to homeschool in their child’s best interest, but their choice has an impact on the family itself, especially on mothers, who decide to invest more in the domestic sphere.

This research uses both qualitative and quantitative data, collected in France, in both rural and urban areas. It includes forty in-depth interviews with homeschooling parents; six ethnographic observations at home; a descriptive data analysis of around six hundred responses to an online survey; and textual data from social networks (Facebook pages of parenting groups).

With these data, I analyze parents’ depiction of the world of childhood and unpack the role they assign themselves as parents. The parents in my sample often identify “turning points” in their life course to justify their educational choices. I demonstrate how parents, and above all, mothers, redefine their identity (Faircloth, 2009) and adapt their daily life to sustain their choices, sometimes with the help of parenting networks, which help parents create new norms. Finally, I illustrate how their definition of the child’s best interests has a strong impact on other aspects of parents’ lives, from political beliefs to consumption and domestic activities.