Find below abstracts, video resources and presentation materials related to the various seminars organised by the team of the “Childhood, well-being and parenting” Chair.
Seminar 1: “UNDERSTANDING AND COMPARING WELL-BEING: DETERMINANTS AND INDICATORS” (NOVEMBER 29, 2017)
The first seminar of the “Childhood, well-being and parenting” Chair was held on November 29, 2017 in Rennes. This first session devoted to well-being and its determinants was an occasion to question the uses, relevance and evolution of the indicators used to measure this condition.
Frank Furstenberg (U. Pennsylvania): Family change in global perspective
Download Frank Furstenberg’s presentation (pdf, 865 ko)
Frank Furstenberg’s presentation provided an introduction to the entire seminar. This internationally recognized specialist in family changes around the world gave an account of the context in which children are now socialized, focusing on the impacts of these global changes in families differentiated by social class, and of course by country. Frank Furstenberg is involved in a large-scale project on Global family change, which looks at the links between economic development in 84 low- and medium-resource countries (in Central and South America, in North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, Asia, and former republics of the Soviet Union). His experience made him particularly well placed to talk on the issue of child welfare in changing family contexts.
Frank Furstenberg began with the observation that the changes that have affected families in the last fifty years in Western so-called developed countries are greater than those that marked the 500 years before. He went on to look back on some of the major trends which, at different rates (usually taking the scientists by surprise), have affected all Western countries, i.e. the broken link between sexuality, marriage and procreation; weakening of the matrimonial institution; questioning of “Mr. Breadwinner – Mrs. Housewife” types of gender contract; increase in the number of households without children, and births outside marriage; early access to sexuality but delayed access to economic independence, etc. He also stressed the main factors advanced to explain these changes, which include economic variables (market capitalism, growth and use of women’s wages), cultural factors (evolution of gender roles, recognition of women’s rights and the role of education in the production of human capital) and the role of public policies (especially on family and education), coupled with the advent of digital technology, which impacts the economy, modes of production and lifestyles.
However, Frank Furstenberg insisted in particular on the fact that, in most countries (United States and more broadly English-speaking countries, and other European countries) these changes have generated families operating at two speeds, or even three. This duality is evident in the dominant norms of family and family roles in different social classes. Wealthy families tend to feature strong parental investment in a smaller number of children with the use of what Annette Lareau has called “concerted cultivation” to optimize the socialization context of the child (parents as managers). The purpose of this investment is, of course, to guarantee forms of social reproduction, precisely in a context of the weakening of the social lifeline and the guarantees previously provided by the school system. Young people take longer to transit to adulthood, and marriage is viewed as an additional lever. In families with disadvantaged backgrounds, family formation occurs earlier, but is often unplanned, and for some men in these circles marriage is not accessible. Cohabitation becomes an alternative to marriage giving rise to couples with more fragile and more complex trajectories. Social mobility is most often compromised, as is parental investment.
Another target of the proposed analysis is to highlight the situation of the middle layers, not only because they represent the vast majority in these so-called developed societies, where segments are increasingly differentiable between the high, medium and low fringes of these social layers. These “middle-class families” are in a way pulled in both directions: some parents clearly adopt the concerted cultivation model but with fewer resources, and therefore with fewer guarantees to get their children into the best positions; others are somehow pulled down by detrimental effects, such as longer cohabitation with their children due to lack of access to employment and autonomy, feelings of disqualification, or even forms of resentment related to promises not kept by the state and public policies. Frank Furstenberg finished his presentation by stressing the particularly important role that public policies and policies to offset these growing inequalities can play in this context.
Wolfgang Aschauer (U. Salzburg): An overview of well-being concepts and their potentials and limits in cross-cultural research
Download Wolfgang Aschauer’s presentation (pdf, 2 Mo)
The presentation by Wolfgang Aschauer addressed the issues of defining and comparing indicators of well-being. While recent years have seen a significant increase in research on the concept of well-being (in economics, psychology, political science and sociology), there are still major difficulties in defining what constitutes a “good life”. GDP has long been regarded as the main measure of people’s well-being. The human development index proposed by the OECD has also led to many measures, at a multidimensional level. Wolfgang Aschauer explained the wide variety of indicators available to us today to measure or approach the level of well-being. He distinguished between objective and subjective indicators, which may be one-dimensional or multidimensional. He also highlighted the various studies that have been done on happiness and satisfaction, such as the World Happiness Report and comparative studies between countries such as the European Social Surveys.
Among these studies, two fields of research stand out: on the one hand, a standard of living approach (possibily including health states), and on the other, an analysis of subjective well-being. While many studies and measurement indicators are available, it is important to check and highlight the validity and comparability of the data. Wolfgang Aschauer pointed out several weaknesses in these measures of well-being. First of all, measures of this concept are sometimes based on only one indicator, which raises several questions. How can a single indicator summarize and take into account all of the dimensions of a concept as vast and complex as the well-being of individuals? How can this single indicator then be used to compare individuals or countries?
Wolfgang Aschauer expressed the opinion that questioning people about their own feelings of well-being is not necessarily very reliable, because “reported happiness” is a weak indication of general feeling (for example, in some cultures, people find it difficult to express malaise or to evoke the fact of not being happy while in others it may be the opposite). It is therefore important to find equivalence tables and indicators that are comparable between countries and cultures.
Wolfgang Aschauer is also interested in the issue of “social malaise” and explained that a multidimensional design has been put in place to measure this condition. Transnational equivalence has been partly achieved (mainly in European countries) and results indicate that differences between regions are adequately taken into account. The results show that in Northern European countries, social inclusion is more successful, and citizens’ level of satisfaction is higher due to relative economic prosperity, relatively low public debt and the quality of democratic regimes. On the other hand, a fear of social decline (which raises public debt) in more conservative states and greater precariousness in liberal countries lead to high levels of dissatisfaction. In Southern Europe, there is a lot of pessimism about the future, due in particular to a negative economic outlook, extraordinarily high public debt and growing unemployment. Finally, in Eastern Europe, social malaise is mainly due to the poor quality of democracies.
Wolfgang Aschauer considers it necessary to refine the concepts and distinguish their measurement by region and social group. According to him, we should verify the validity of the content rather than wanting to immediately compare the results, or even ensure that new units of analysis emerge. In short, he proposes to work in stages, beginning with the development of qualitative research to capture all facets of the concept of well-being. The next goal could be to operationalize this initial material through quantitative analysis and empirical evaluations within the same country. Once the validity of the results is established, choices must be made regarding comparability issues. These concepts need to be fully and exhaustively measured in all cultures, and this is relevant mainly for subpopulations that are sometimes difficult to access in surveys, such as refugees, children, and the elderly, for example.
Michel Forsé (CNRS): Subjective well-being and the sentiment of social justice
Michel Forsé explained that he defends a multidimensional conception of well-being, whether individual, collective, objective or subjective. He favors an approach centered on satisfaction with one’s existence, but also one of the most central aspects of subjective well-being, namely comparison with others. In terms of subjective well-being, he identifies three critical dimensions of satisfaction with one’s own life, i.e. an individual’s resources, both financial and related to physical and mental health; employment and quality of professional life associated with the feeling of success, recognition and professional projects; and finally different aspects of the emotional and social life (couple relationship, children, friends, etc.). However, asking individuals to make a so-called objective evaluation of their lives is not easy for several reasons: overall, individuals tend to compare themselves with people who have done better than them, and satisfaction depends greatly on these comparisons with others. In terms of work, feeling better than peers is rewarding. Typically, the average satisfaction of an unemployed person is 5.3 while that of a person in employment is 6.4 on a scale of 10. But more than social position and one’s place within the hierarchy, subjective well-being is increased the most by a feeling of progress. And conversely, frustration feeds dissatisfaction.
Michel Forsé then dwelt on the notion of social justice, which he believes is an important factor in the feeling of well-being. Social justice can be measured on several levels: micro-justice is measured at an individual level, including the justice that can be experienced by an individual in the form of personal remuneration, while macro-justice is more global, such as considering society as more or less just. Three strong links then appear: one between the feelings of micro and macro-justice, one between well-being and micro-justice, and one between well-being and macro-justice. People who feel that society is unfair tend to be dissatisfied with a combination of low resources and frustration, leading them to feel less well treated by society than others. People who feel that they have failed in their personal and professional lives tend to perceiving society as more unfair than those who succeed professionally or have a fulfilling couple and/or family life. And this evaluation of one’s own successes and failures precisely involves a comparison with others. This approach to social justice “tends to make justice the principle of organization and understanding of social cohesion, in which well-being has a place”.
Michèle Lamont (Harvard): Social resilience in the Neoliberal Era
Michèle Lamont started her presentation by recalling a series of collective works that she has been coordinating for nearly fifteen years with Peter Hall at Harvard University, following a long tradition of research on questions of welfare, especially studies by Michael Marmot on the way “stress and inequalities get under the skin” and Amartya Sen on capabilities. This multi-year program, called Successful Societies and supported by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, resulted in two collective books: Successful Societies: How Institutions and Culture Affect Health and Social Resilience in The Neoliberal Era (both edited with Peter Hall and published by Cambridge University Press). The objective of this program is to mobilize two theoretical angles on understanding issues of collective well-being, i.e. cultural studies and institutionalist approaches. These angles make it possible to renew ecological and public health attempts to interconnect micro, meso and macro-sociological levels. They put a particular focus on the symbolic aspects and the question of values and collective narratives. They also critically mobilize the notion of “resilience”, not at the individual level but at the societal level, to understand how individuals and groups deal with neoliberalism and its attendant values, such as competitiveness and privatization of risks.
To address subjective well-being, Michèle Lamont explained that she favors a scale of values. She applied this approach in her work on “the dignity of workers”. The aim is to complement the traditional angle of measuring gaps between resource levels, health and disease indicators, paying special, if not primary, attention, to the issue of recognition (with reference to the concept of Axel Honneth), which she calls the “recognition gap“. This focus makes it possible to counter the pathological tendencies of the social, which are expressed by negative experiences of injustice. For Lamont, the question is not just about how good one feels, but about understanding how individuals and groups rely on collective values and group boundaries to cope with the injunction of autonomy imposed by neo-liberalism, which tends to decollectivize, individualize and empower.
This global project makes use of this comparison in identifying cultural directories, including republicanism, socialism and Catholicism. Michèle Lamont presented this comparative perspective by mentioning one of her latest books, Getting Respect, devoted to the experiences of discrimination in three national contexts: the USA, Brazil and Israel. The general objective of this research is to show that personal experiences of discrimination and stigmatization are embedded in symbolic and social frameworks that are themselves inserted into cultural repertoires. Thus, not only are the objective structures of inequalities involved, but also the porosity or rigidity of barriers between social groups (group boundaries), whether in terms of labor relations or conjugal relations. Within these are identity and action repertoires that vary from society to another. Lamont’s method involves combining the description of individual experiences with collective narratives to highlight the impact of national contexts. One example is the “racial wall” prevalent in the US, where race identification and consciousness are more important than class consciousness, and hence responses to discrimination more often take the form of conflict or affirmative action, or even withdrawal of a demand for regulation by the social state. The mixed-race model prevailing in Brazil calls for more social policies to counter expressions of inequaliy that are perceived between rich and poor over and above race.
The whole of this presentation opened up a discussion about what social resilience might mean in this context as a process of self-construction in the face of injustice and expressions of contempt and discrimination.
The second seminar of the “Childhood, well-being and parenting” Chair was held on June 28-29, 2018 in Rennes and was devoted to the theme Children’s subjective well-being.
Download the program
Dowload the speakers’ presentation
Jonathan Bradshaw (York University, UK): Questions around the study of the subjective well-being of children
Download Jonathan Bradshaw’s powerpoint
Jonathan Bradshaw, one of the most recognized scholars of the study of children’s well-being, linked his presentation with the previous seminar on the broader concept of well-being, which raised several questions. Jonathan Bradshaw thus picked up three of them:
- Is the study of children’s subjective well-being just a smokescreen that prevents us from addressing the essential questions? Are comparisons of children’s subjective well-being valid and reliable?
- What consequences do these studies of children’s subjective well-being have on the definition of public policies?
Jonathan Bradshaw pointed out that in the United Kingdom, children’s well-being and its measurement indicators have improved significantly since 2010. In 2007, UNICEF reports placed France and England at the bottom of rankings of child welfare levels, yet by 2013 the results were much better, with both countries ranking average. Jonathan Bradshaw said that he understands the “smokescreen” issue in a context where the British government has just begun to measure the subjective aspect of children’s well-being at the same time as cutting down state aid for children. According to the British academic, policies should first and foremost be concerned with child poverty which has a considerable impact on children’s well-being. He maintained that subjective well-being is ultimately only one dimension of well-being. UNICEF and the OECD in fact point out that material well-being, health, education, behavior, relationships, environment, and place of residence are all aspects that affect children’s well-being. It is not just parents and grandparents who have an interest in their offspring’s happiness, so does the state.
Jonathan Bradshaw noted that factors related to adult well-being do not seem to work in terms of children’s well-being, which is why the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child advocates listening to children about their level of well-being and satisfaction with their own lives. Current studies probably focus too much on academic success and children’s health, and not enough on childhood as an actual stage of life, which is one of the main criticisms put forward by sociologists specializing in childhood.
Some authors point out that it is difficult to study the subjective well-being of children because the measures available are not reliable. Asking children what they feel is problematic either because they may not understand or are too immature to make a judgment about their own lives and deliver reliable answers, or their opinion is too unstable and dependent on the mood of the moment. This is indeed one of the concerns of studies that focus on subjective well-being. The Children’s World survey thus measures children’s subjective well-being in different ways. One of these measures is the satisfaction scale, but the survey also includes questions about family, home, friends, school, freedom, health, appearance, leisure time and the future. The validity of the indicators is therefore difficult to assess and there are surely limits for young children, but Jonathan Bradshaw maintained that he has successfully used this survey to assess the subjective well-being of children aged 8 or older.
However, it remains very complicated to explain the variations in levels of well-being between countries. In general, family and freedom of choice have a greater impact on subjective well-being than friends or school. For example, the very low levels of well-being reported by Korean and Japanese children can be explained by the fact that in these two countries academic pressure after school is very high and individual freedom is very limited. Material well-being is also important, but the greatest impacts on levels of well-being are child poverty and the level of deprivation. While family structure appears to have no bearing on child welfare levels, recent bullying experiences can have a considerable impact.
It is strongly recommended that public policies improve children’s well-being. Jonathan Bradshaw stressed, however, that sometimes policies have little effect: for example, while states can try to reduce bullying at school (in France, 17 % of changes in children’s level of subjective well-being result from bullying), they cannot intervene on sibling bullying, which remains very common. Parental conflicts pose the same problem. While they have a strong impact on children, public policies have relatively little grip on these aspects. However, state action can reduce child poverty rates. Jonathan Bradshaw demonstrated that there is a strong correlation between levels of poverty and the subjective well-being of children, and that at the individual level, this association is even stronger.
Michal Molcho (National University of Ireland): Children, parents and well-being: learning from the Health Behaviour in School Aged Children (HBSC) Study
Michal Molcho, childhood sociologist, presented some of the results of the international survey Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) for which she is deputy principal investigator for Ireland.
This HBSC survey evaluates the health and well-being of adolescents aged 11, 13 and 15, ages that represent different phases of development and school curriculum. The study has been led every four years since 1982 by the European office of the World Health Organization and currently involves more than 40 countries or regions of Europe. Michal Molcho underlined that the study’s priority is to be child-centered and that it is important to study the different contexts in which children evolve, their links with their family, school, peer groups, and siblings, and to look at the social policies enforced in their country.
Children’s condition has substantially evolved: historically, in Catholic and Protestant cultures, children started to work very early and were considered as young adults. States gradually adopted a vision in which children are adults in-the-making destined to compose the future generation. Children are what constitute a family. Although we now readily talk about single-parent families, a couple is not recognized as a family as such. The definition of a family depends on the presence of a child. It is only recently, in 1989, with the signature of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that children were recognized as citizens with rights.
The HBSC survey measures the health of adolescents, compares data between countries and contributes to orientate practices and social policies. The notion of subjective well-being is apprehended in this survey as a component of health. Several measures of subjective well-being are proposed in the questionnaire: self-evaluation of health, life satisfaction based on the Cantril ladder, and two questions relative to children’s relationship with parents: “How easy it is to speak with your father / with your mother?”
Michal Molcho also showed that globally girls are in poorer health than boys. This gap is particularly salient in Eastern Europe, Ireland and Scotland. For boys, some geographical differences also exist, but overall they report better health. Life satisfaction also reveals differences between boys and girls: girls are less satisfied with their lives than boys, regardless of age. Lastly, as they grow up, boys and girls are less likely to report that they are in good health and satisfied with their lives.
Michal Molcho indicated some predicting factors of well-being:
- Socio-economic status: Michal Molcho gave the example of children from single-parent families who report lower levels of well-being. Going against the common notion that child well-being is dependent on family structure or divorce, Michal Molcho links it more to socio-economic status and household poverty following a separation.
- Communication with parents is an important topic: the more positive a child’s relationship with her parents, the better her health and well-being is likely to be.
- School environment is another field that strongly contributes to child well-being: the more positive a child feels about school, the more likely he is to feel good about his life.
- Lastly, Michal. Molcho mentioned a range of behaviors all related to child well-being. For instance, it has been proven that children who regularly exercise report better health and higher satisfaction with life. Michal Molcho also mentioned the question of social networks: we know that an excess of social networks represents a risk, but we must first understand where the limit to the excess lies. The coming 2018 wave of the HBSC study should bring more answers to these questions.
Michal Molcho concluded that children aspire to more freedom to feel happier. She reminded us that we know what to do and that the real question is, how can we protect children (against bullying, risk behaviors, etc.) and give them the ability to protect themselves, while allowing them more freedom.
Olivier Thévenon (OECD, France): “Enhancing Child Well-Being to Promote Inclusive Growth. OECD approach to Child Well-Being”
Olivier Thévenon, economist at the OECD, presents the results of the researches made through the OECD child well-being data portal. This web portal was created in 2017 and gathers the data of several surveys: HBSC, PISA, EU-SILC and the Harmonised European Time Use Survey.
This portal is born from several observations. First, the poverty rate of children is higher than the one of the general population and this rate is still growing in most of the OECD countries. Moreover, the social mobility (the social ladder) between the generations is weak and continues to decline. Poverty during childhood has got impacts beyond this period and on many sectors. Having poor parents and in bad health compromises the health of the future adult. People, whose parents had very small incomes, earn in general more than their parents. However, the progression is quite weak. About education, the children whose parents do not have school diplomas have much less chances to study in university than the children of graduated parents.
This portal enables to study the poverty of the children inside the OECD countries and to better understand the mechanisms of transmission of economical and/or social disadvantages of the parents to the children. By gathering the available data of those different international surveys, this website allows to produce indicators and to study the interactions between the different domains of the question to better orient the public policies.
Olivier Thévenon presents the main categories of indicators of the child well-being data portal:
- The indicators related to the family and home environment : the living arrangements, the job and incomes of the parents, the coverage of the children’s basic material needs, the parenting activities and the quality of parent-child relationships, the housing conditions and the neighborhood and environmental quality
- The indicators related to the health and safety of the child: the infant health, the child and adolescent health, the risk behaviors
- The indicators related to education and school life: the childcare participation, the educational resources and behaviors at home, the educational attitudes and expectations of the child, the quality of school life, the educational performance
- The indicators related to activities and life satisfaction: the participation of the child to basic social and leisure activities, the activities of the adolescent outside of school, the adolescent subjective well-being and various other adolescent activities and outcomes as NEETs rate, suicide and fertility of the adolescents
- And the indicators related to child policies: public spending on family benefits, public spending on children and paid parental leave.
On the issue of life satisfaction, Olivier Thévenon underlines major differences between genders in all the countries: girls declare a smaller well-being rate than boys. The same tendency is also seen among the socio-economic status of the parents: children of deprived family declare less satisfaction in life than those of better-off families.
However, material poverty is not only linked to the incomes of the parents: some children living in families that are not poor on the point of view of the income, might live in poor living conditions on the questions of housing, clothing, nutrition, educational resources, leisure opportunities or the quality of the environment. Olivier Thevenon also emphasizes that most of the children in poverty situation encounters multiple deprivations.
Finally, the goal of the portal is also to define the new challenges of public policies in order to answer to the transformations and evolutions of the family structure (single-parent family, blended family, rise of out-of-wedding births… ). This diversification raises the question of the access to rights as a majority of countries do not recognize unmarried couples. Those often have less access to rights than the married couples. The governments have to consider how to adapt their social protection to those societal evolutions in order to continue to guarantee the child and family rights.
Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne): “Children custody and social inequalities”
The presentation of Laura Bernardi, demograph, teacher at the University of Lausanne, deputy director of the NCCR-LIVES, is on the impact of children custody on social inequalities. She prepared this intervention with Anna Garriga, sociologist at the University of Valladolid, Barcelona.
Laura Bernardi proposes first a range of questions stemming from the scientific literature on children custody and its effects, a more and more frequent phenomenon in western countries. Shared children custody is often considered as benefic for the children of divorced parents, and even in capacity of counterbalancing the negative effects of divorce.
Children are not affected in the same way by the divorce of their parents depending on their socio-economic status. Indeed, in most of the countries, the more educated parents have more stable family and marital lives than parents from more disadvantages backgrounds. And when they separate, better-off parents choose more shared custody, an arrangement that requires a relatively good level of communication and more material means.
As a consequence, there is a polarization of the trajectories of the children, as well as of their well-being, as children from more disadvantage background are encountering more complex and unstable situations. Laura Bernardi shows that the issue at stake then, is the one of the impact of the shared custody on the increase of the inequalities between the children: if shared custody would be uniformly used among the different social classes, then the beneficial effect of shared custody would lever the social inequalities.
Laura Bernardi and Anna Garriga have studied the case of Spain and have mobilized for their analysis the 2006 and 2014 data of the HBSC study, which covers living conditions and well-being of the adolescents. She takes into account three elements: the family structure (bi-parental households, separated couples with shared custody and single-parents households), the socio-economic level of the family (the level of education but also the occupation of the mother and father), and the indicators of well-being or complaints about health (perceptions of their own health of the adolescents, including physical condition, quality of living conditions and satisfaction in life).
The results show that the adolescents whose parents have a higher socio-economic status have more chances to live with their two parents. On the contrary, more the parents are disadvantaged, more likely is the adolescent to live in a single-parent household. Moreover, an adolescent growing in a shared custody or living in a single parent household has more chances to have a less positive satisfaction in life and have somatic and psychological troubles than those living with their two parents. However, if the divorced parents doing shared custody have a good socio-economic status, this can compensate the negative effects of divorce. Therefore, the adolescents coming from a more disadvantaged background benefit much less of the shared custody solution than those of more privileged background. This contributes to reinforce again the inequalities.
Laura Bernardi concludes in her presentation that in order to reduce the inequalities between children facing divorce, the consequences of the separation should not impact the resources of the parents and that the benefice of the shared custody should be the same for all the children of all the different levels of socio-economic backgrounds.
Ingrid Schoon (University College London): Developmental profiles of co-occurring internalizing and externalizing problems between ages 3 to 11 in a general UK population sample
Ingrid Schoon is professor of Human Development and Social Policy at the Institute of Education, at the University College London. Her intervention presents the results of a study on the internalizing problems (such as depression, anxiety …) and externalizing problems (conduct problems, aggression, antisocial behavior, hyperactivity, inattention … ) in the development of children between 3 and 11 years old, using the data of the Millenium cohort survey in the United Kingdom.
Interest for the analysis of the typology of emotional and behavioral issues among children has been growing during the past years. However, those studies often treat separately internalizing and externalizing problems. Therefore, Ingrid Schoon proposes to study the development of those problems jointly and going beyond the traditional diagnosis borders of these kinds of behavior problems, taking into account the comorbidity. In medicine, comorbidity refers to disorders or diseases associated to a primary disease. She wants to investigate if this comorbidity is homotypic (i.e. the disorders are within one diagnosis grouping: conduct problems and hyperactivity or depression and anxiety …) or heterotypic (i.e. the disorders are belonging to two different diagnostic groupings such as conduct problems and depression…).
Ingrid Schoon makes the hypothesis of four possible models:
- The continuity model: in which the disorders are appearing in the first years of the child and will stay stable. In this model, the comorbidity is high from the first years and continues over time.
- The maturation model: in which the disorders developed in early childhood will disappear as the child grows. In this model, the comorbidity is high in early childhood and then diminishes.
- The accumulation of symptoms model: in which the presence of one disorder increases the risk for the development of another. In this model, a high level of externalizing problems will bring internalizing disorders.
- The differentiation model: in which initially undifferentiated symptoms differentiate into specific symptoms. Internalizing problems and externalizing problems are present from the beginning and will differentiate in specific symptoms.
Analyzing the data of the Millenium survey in the United Kingdom, she draws the following results:
- A majority of children (67%) have a profile with low-intensity and continuous symptoms. They are the normative group.
- One child on ten is in the maturity model
- A small group is in the continuity model
- One third of the children are in the accumulation of symptoms model
- However, no children are in the differentiation model.
Therefore, she concludes that the comorbidity of internalizing and externalizing problems is more homotypic – i.e. with disorders belonging to the same diagnosis category – than heterotopic.
Moreover, Ingrid Schoon also analyses the early risk factors of these disorders. Socio-economic resources as the level of education of the parents, home ownership, depression of the mother and the parent-child relationship are some of the explanatory factors of internalizing or externalizing problems of the child. On the contrary, having older siblings, a warm parent-child relationship, regularity in everyday life and cognitive abilities are potential beneficial factors for the prevention of the development of these child disorders.
Lidia Panico (INED) – Measuring childhood multidimensional deprivation and how it changes around parental separation: a lifecourse approach
Lidia Panico is a researcher at the INED (the French National Institute of Demographic Studies) and works on the socio-demographic factors influencing the development of the child and on the evolution of the family structures. The income poverty of children after a parental separation has been well documented by the scientific literature. However, the sole analysis of the household incomes does not enable to cover its multiple dimensions. There can be some major differences depending on the financial situation of the family (presence of savings or debts, wider family support …) and on the priorities given by the parents on spending.
Lidia Panico analyzes in her presentation the impacts on the living conditions of the child and the multiple deprivations appearing after the separation of the parents. She studies in particular the deprivations in terms of material conditions, leisure activities, parenting activities and routines and extreme material deprivation.
Her study is based on the data of the Millenium survey, cohort of 19,000 children, launched in the United Kingdom in the 2000’s and which deals with the first ten years of the child. Lidia Panico chooses to adapt the measuring methods of adult poverty on the child, by developing specific indicators per age and child-centered, in order to do a longitudinal analysis and to measure the impact of the shock of the separation on the living conditions of the child.
Whereas divorce has strong consequences in terms of loss of incomes, the impact on deprivations for the child is more diverse. Facing financial difficulties, the parents are restraining the costly leisure activities, as holidays or other leisure activities. However, the level of basic material goods, as well as the time spent with the child or the personal involvement of the father or of the mother with the child (i.e. reading bedtime story, helping to do homework…) remain unchanged or even increases as a compensation.
However, there is also some heterogeneity in the impact of divorce on the poverty of the child depending on several factors. Mothers with higher education are less impacted by a divorce, while older mothers encounters more difficulties to go over the economic shock of divorce. Among the recovering factors of the parents, re-partnering is the first factor for divorced women to get back to their previous living standards. Younger women find in general more easily a new partner and this partner has more chances to be employed. The non-poor households are very impacted by divorce, but are less impacted in term of deprivations (presence of property assets or savings for instance).
There are also some differences depending on the age of the child at the time of the separation. If the child is young, the impact of divorce on the incomes of the parents and in terms of material deprivations will be strong. On the contrary, if the child is older, it is more the parental involvement that will be affected.
Through this longitudinal study, Lidia Panico shows that the effects of the divorce or the separation have a strong financial impact on the short term on the living conditions of the child. However, it is in particular the spending in leisure activities which are the more impacted and which take more time to come back to their original level.
The third seminar of the “Childhood, well-being and parenting” Chair was held on 29-30 November 2018 in Rennes and was devoted to the theme Parenting cultures, parenting determinism and child well-being.
Download the program
Download the speakers’ presentation
Asa Lundqvist (U. of Lund) and Ilona Ostner (U. of Goettingen): “‘New social risk’ policies for German and Swedish families”
Asa Lundqvist and Ilona Ostner are professors of sociology, respectively at the University of Lund (Sweden) and at the University of Goettingen (Germany). They are specialists of international comparisons of social and family policies in Europe. In their presentation, they presented first the situation of their own countries whose family policies are historically contrasted, to analyze the development of the orientations and of the programs of parenting support.
In the comparisons, Germany is more similar to a “familialistic” model, which has for long favored “cash for care” instead of services to families and to married couples. Sweden, on the contrary, has developed a “non-familialistic” policy which favors to more gender equality, individualized interventions and a bigger offer of public services for family support.
Since the 2000’s, Germany started important reforms to set up parental leave, like the Swedish model (with a wage replacement rate) and by developing fulltime public reception services. In the same period, Sweden has reinforced its parenting support system, by giving priority to preventions measures on health problems of the teenagers. These two countries have old and contrasted social protections systems but they are facing similar issues: rise of unemployment and of poverty, ageing of the population, drop in fertility rate, higher numbers of migrant families and youths. There is here the rise of a policy of social investment based on childhood and of the regulation of “new social risks”.
Asa Lundqvist and Ilona Ostner consider that these new forms of social protection services are strategies to re-institutionalize parenting through the establishment of numerous services. In Germany, these new policies of regulation of the “new social risks” are focusing on the improvement of parental skills, with a special attention to pregnant women, to children under 3 and to migrant families through the development of prevention measures, surveillance and evaluation in nursery facilities and schools and of measures to enhance cooperation and coordination between the service providers. Sweden, for its part, is more focusing on health problems among children and teenagers in their parenting support apparatus. The Swedish government wants the concept of family to become central in its new policies, while insisting on the primary role of the parents regarding children’s health. The Swedish government also wishes more equality between men and women in family policies, in particular on parental leave. Since 2015, Swedish policies are favoring migrant families and youth with immigrant background by proposing parenting support services.
In Germany, we are observing an intensification of the role of the State as “social investor”, whereas Sweden reinforce its parenting support policies which were existing for a long time. By focusing on children perceived at risk, in particular on immigrant children and teenagers, these two countries seem to be proposing inclusive social policies and services. But Asa Lundvist and Ilona Ostner are also warning that these evolutions are in fact a social division between the life/work conciliation policies whose privileged families are benefitting and parenting support services that are targeting poorer, unemployed and vulnerable persons.
Ella Sihvonen (KELA, Finland): “From family policy to parenting support. Parenting-related anxiety in family support projects in Finland”
Ella Sihvonen received a PhD in sociology. She is working at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) in Helsinki. Her main fields of research concern the sociology of family, parenting practices and social policies. She defended a PhD thesis on: “From family policy to parenting support policy. Sociological analysis of parenting aid projects in Finland”.
Her presentation is based on her PhD research. Ella argues that since the 1990’s, the notion of ill-being of children and youth have become more popular in the finish medias, putting the blame on the parents and their parenting practices. She identifies a familistic turn in the public debate in the late 1990’s – period where Finland encountered a deep economic recession and changed its state policies toward more market-oriented solutions. Since that time, a growing number of discussions developed on the ill-being of children and youth but also an anxiety about parenthood. This paradigm shift has been identified in other European countries as well with a rise of parenting support programs.
Ella Sihvonen focuses on the following questions: what means parenting in the finish parenting support projects? How is the responsibilization of parents carried out? What is the role given to the experts and to the community in the parenting support projects? What kind of skills, competencies and capabilities are required from the parents?
Empirically, Ella Sihvonen uses the documentation of 310 parenting support projects to do a qualitative analysis. These projects took place between 2000’s and 2010’s in public organizations and in particular in the social affairs or education departments of municipalities (for example the funding applications documents or midterm and final reports of the parenting support projects).
The qualitative analysis of this documentation reveals two types of approaches in parenting support projects:
– individualized parenting support approach that focuses on strengthening the parent-child relationship
– and communal parenting support approach that focuses on strengthening a sense of community.
Ella Sihvonen also underlines that in the projects where childrearing is implied, the parents involved are generally presented as irresponsible, incapable to share common values. Projects emphasize then the empowerment of parents with the aid of childrearing experts to help them to find their inner-parenting capacities and expertise. This aspect is particularly acute in early intervention projects where the experts help the parents to find their own inner-resources and strengthen the parent-child relationship. These approaches belong to the individualized parenting support type.
However, she also finds that some projects are closer to a more community-based and preventive parenting support approach. In this perspective, the support is based on peer-to-peer parental relationships with the objective to strengthen parenting and favor horizontal expertise of parenting.
These two approaches have in common the idea that the problem is the lack of shared values among parents. In the Finnish context, the main issue is not only the professional expertise but the parental expertise, which is valued as their own inner-competencies as well as the expertise shared among peer-parents within the community. Ella Sihvonen concludes that the increase in the number of discussions about parental responsibilities and competences became legitimated through the recent paradigm shift in state policy.
Mara Yerkes (U. of Utrecht): “Parenting styles in relation to children’s health and wellbeing”
Mara Yerkes is Associate Professor at the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of Utrecht (Netherlands). She obtained recently a European Research Council project (CAPABLE) on work/life balance policies. She presented in the seminar a collective work involving colleagues of her department from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds – psychology, sociology, social policy and public health. Their research focused on the relation between parenting models and children’s health.
Parental investment on children is often presented as a key driver of children’s health and well-being. More the parents spend time and energy on their children, better are supposed to be their children. But for Mara Yerkes, here is a health paradox on the relation between children’s health and parental investment. On one side, increased parental investment seems to have positive effect on child physical health. However, on the other side, parental investment loses its positive effect on the aspect of children’s psychological well-being when reaching adolescence. At that age, an adolescent which got a high level of parental investment show higher levels of internalizing and externalizing problems. Moreover, intensive parenting can create stress on the parents and their responsibilities which can also affect the child.
To analyze the relations between children’s health and parents’ behaviors, Mara Yerkes uses the data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study and defines three categories of parenting intensiveness: neglectful parenting, intermediate parenting and intensive parenting to see what are the consequences on the self-reported health, self-esteem and well-being of their children.
Her results show that children under intensive parenting during their childhood are slightly healthier at adolescence than those of neglectful parents. However, the teenagers that received a high level of parental investment have a weaker self-esteem at adolescence. On the other side, more surprisingly, adolescents that were under neglectful parenting during their childhood have a better self-esteem when they are growing up than those with intense parenting. On the contrary to self-esteem, well-being as health are also correlated to intensive parenting. Children that were under neglectful parenting during childhood have lesser levels of well-being at adolescence.
It is thus necessary to distinguish among health between physical and psychological health. If intense parental investment seems to have a positive consequence on the physical health of the child, this result is more ambiguous for psychological health, where well-being of the child seems to be positively correlated with high parental investment but not the self-esteem of the child at adolescence.
Barbara Da Roit (U. of Venise): “Children’s wellbeing and parenting: exploring the role of institutions”
In her presentation, Barbara Da Roit, professor of sociology at the University of Venice (Italy), focused on the relations between parental practices, social policies and the institutions. Italy, like many other European countries, is facing a parental turn with the rise of family polices aiming to educate the parents, so that their children could be happier, “better” or would get more well-being. These new family policies raised a lot of criticism and of tensions between the different positions. Barbara Da Roit wants to analyze the hypothesis of parental determinism by questioning what could prevent it. Could it be to value spontaneity in parental relations? But what could be the effects that could produce this spontaneity? And how to develop again spontaneity?
Italy has not developed very much the nursery services and infrastructures. It has still very few parenting support policies. But these policies start to emerge with several experimentation, as the P.I.P.P.I (Intervention Program against Institutionalization). The role of school is still very present in the mediatic debates in Italy: the parents express strong expectations about schools and teachers. But significant controversies are developing about their respective roles. Teachers often consider that parents are at the origin of the children’s problems (lack of concentration, non-recognition of authority, non-respect of rules). On the opposite, parents are blaming teachers of not being able to make children attentive and of not taking care of them individually.
Parental practices are under constraint (by the culture, the institutions …) and they are interacting with other practices taking place at school, with their friends, their neighbors, with their environment… . These parental practices are playing an important role in child well-being. As the institutions, they can change throughout time. Barbara Da Roit, is asking the question of the role of social institutions and the way that they interact with parental practices.
To study it, Barbara Da Roit is taking a concrete study case with the sleeping habits of children: how the sleep of children is managed? At what do children go to bed and wake up? What quantity and quality of sleep do they get? Are they sleeping alone or not? What are their bedtime rituals?
Sleep is of interest, as mealtimes or family gatherings, as it is a relatively simple routine to study in the families. In the literature, many studies are analyzing the sleep habits in relation with the well-being of children and their health (with the question of screens around bedtime for instance). Thus, parental practices can influence the quantity and quality of children’s sleep.
There are differences between countries on management of children’s sleep. Barbara Da Roit is studying the case of Italy based on a normative production in blogs in internet. In Italy, there are many discussions about the fact that Italian children are sleeping less than children from other European countries. Many studies are also showing that Italian children are culturally and traditionally more involved in the social activities of their parents. We can then wonder why and question the parental practices about sleep as well as the role of some institutions.
Between 1950 and 1970, there used to be a small institution about sleep with the daily television broadcast “Carasello” which was announcing the moment for children to go to bed. At this time of full economic growth, this 10-minutes entertaining TV program was very popular among children. Between 1957 and 1973n this program was broadcasted at 20:50; whereas during the economic recession period between 1973 and 1977 has been shifted to 20:30. This TV show was a source of external regulation. There was then no need to impose a bedtime hour to children as this program was presented as a national bedtime ritual with at the end this slogan “And after Carasello, everyone to bed!”. What happened when Carasello stopped? Children started to go to bed later ad parents lost this reference for bedtime.
On many online forums, parents are looking for advices about bedtime and the sleep of their children. They can find there quantitative and normative information on the appropriate number of hours of sleep that a child need, the “good” bedtime, the techniques to help one’s child to sleep. In Italy, sleep is considered as a problem as it is often said that children are not getting enough sleep and that they are having a bad quality of sleep. This is provoking a lot on stress among the parents. The parental practices differ according to social positions, but also according to the contribution or not of institutions setting norms to guide parents. Through this example, Barbara Da Roit discussed the question of the sources of normative production and the respective roles of the experts, of the social institutions and of the parents.
Ellie Lee (U. of Kent) and Jan Macvarish (U. of Kent): “Parental determinism and child well-being”
Ellie Lee, is professor of family and parenting research and director of the Center for Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent. She conducts researches at the crossroads of public health policies and of social policies, with a particular focus on the construction of social problems. With this approach, she studied breastfeeding and abortion policies, as well as the social treatment of problems and risks related to alcohol and tobacco uses of mothers. Jan Macvarish, is a sociologist and visiting research fellow at the Center for Parenting Culture Studies. Her research focuses on the study of interpersonal relationships, parenting, family life, health, gender and intimacy. She has published research on contemporary singleness, early pregnancy and parenthood, the regulation of fertility treatment and abortion, and the use and abuse of neurosciences.
Ellie Lee and Jan Macvarish are doing here a critical analysis of contemporary parenting policies and denouncing the ideas of parental determinism behind them. Parental determinism is the assumption that what parents do has a more powerful effect than anything else on children’s development. Concerns about children had become less centered on the form of family which was based on heterosexual marriage, but shifted attention to the competences of the parents as individuals caring for children. Parenting has been used to explained many childhood problems: eating disorders, the “terrible twos’”, student anxiety, failure in school, depression, Low IQ, Violent behavior, psychological damage… . For Ellie Lee and Jan Macvarish, it had also a major influence on relations between children and their parents.
They are taking in their presentations two examples to illustrate this conception in contemporary issues on parenting:
The first one is the question of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) which are defined as negative, stressful or traumatic events happening during childhood. However, this definition is very broad and includes not only abuses of the child, or domestic violence, but also parental separation, which increases a lot the number of persons with ACEs. Moreover, it is considered that every person with ACE will have necessary long-term effects impacting their adult life. ACES should be retrospectively identified in adults, where it should be correlated with mental and physical health problems, and prospectively identified in children. For Ellie Lee and Jan Macvarish, it is the expression of the traditional fears of disorderly social underclass reinterpreted in therapeutic terms.
The other case that they are taking as example is the “helicopter parenting”. This term originates from the US where there has been a lot of discussion about it in the media. It designates over-protecting parents which would in fact threaten the well-being and mental health of their child. For Ellie Lee and Jan Macvarish, this current discussion of the damaging consequences of parental fear on child’s well-being is itself a form of deterministic thinking and fails to consider the reasons why parents have come to be so concerned about multiple risks.
For Ellie Lee and Jan Macvarish, these two opposite cases of ACEs and of helicopter-parenting are similar in their beliefs of parental determinisms and fueled by therapeutic culture which reinforce the image of parental emotions as a risk for child well-being. Parental competence is constructed as a “risk-factor” for child well-being, which should be controlled by professionals, which pushes the parents to fear their own emotions and their effects, and might diminish the confidence and authority of the parents.
Ashley Frawley (U. of Swansea): “Supporting the Sacred Journey: Wellbeing and the problematisation of parenting in Canadian First Nations communities.”
Ashley Frawley, Lecturer in Sociology at Swansea University, explores the functions and effects of emotion rhetoric in the construction of social problems. She uses as a case study the parenting discourses addressed to the Canadian indigenous people.
Relying on ‘Preconception to Parenting for First Nations Families in Ontario’ (Best Start Resource Centre, 2012) and four reports on indigenous well-being through the prism of parenthood (National Collaborating Centre For Aboriginal Health, 2013, 2013, 2013, 2015), the author argues that there has been a discursive shift. Where there used to be a more negatively-connoted understanding of social problems coming from an ‘intergenerational trauma’ resulting of past injustices on indigenous people, it seems to be today a more generalised and apparently positive emphasis on fostering ‘emotional well-being’. While the discourse of trauma remains ‘common sense’ in terms of explaining serious socio-economic disparities, the rise of ‘strengths-based’ approaches does not act to celebrate indigenous positive characteristics but rather further entrenches the problematisation of mental health and the accompanying tendency to see Aboriginal parents (though usually mothers) as suspects and ultimately to blame them for on-going social problems.
More precisely, Ashley Frawley points out that there is a long history of constructing indigenous subjectivity as inherently risky to the next generation, and especially a long history of constructing mothers as negatively influencing the development of their children. Colonial constructions of indigenous mothers as hyperemotional, hypersexual and unable to curb appetites influenced policies of child removals throughout the twentieth century and are echoed in the contemporary emphasis of health promotion materials on, for instance, childhood obesity and teenage pregnancy. Resulting trends in child removals are also broadly similar, where despite representing 7% of the population of children in Canada, indigenous children make up 52% of children placed in institutions or in foster care. These increased surveillance and interventions are particularly significant in the context of longstanding calls for indigenous self-determination and a ‘not unfounded’ distrust of outside agencies.
Finally, the author highlights, against this backdrop, both the ‘glocalisation’ of therapeutic discourses, that is the local appropriation of international norms of wellbeing, and the rise of ‘kindly power’ act as a kind of Trojan horse for greater intervention and monitoring of family life. Through the cultural translation of the problematisation of emotions, these predominately ‘top-down’ and external approaches, embodying common themes across parenting culture throughout the Anglosphere, are presented as ‘bottom up’ indigenous demands. In doing so, these approaches not only contribute to the production and reproduction of social inequalities in childhood, but also reinforce the negative perception of Canadian indigenous parents (as bad or unqualified), as well as colonial dominance relationships that this perception implies.
The fourth seminar of the “Childhood, well-being and parenting” Chair was held on 26th and 27th June 2019 in Rennes and was devoted to the theme of child well-being at school.
Muriel Darmon (CNRS, France): “Children’s “attitudes toward school”: a brief review of sociological studies in France”
Muriel Darmon proposes a review of the French sociological literature on the question of the children’s well-being at school. More precisely, she traces since the 1970s the way in which sociologists have addressed the tastes/disgusts and the relationship of children to the school institution and its different members, namely teachers and animators. On this occasion, she underlines a change of theoretical and methodological perspective: from questions “Are children happy at school? And “do they like school?” (apprehended from surveys and quantitative surveys), we moved to a more ethnographic sociology of “child attitudes towards school”, answering questions “how do children – and their parents – do they perceive the school institution?”, “How do they invest these places of legitimate knowledge?”, by highlighting the existence of strong social differentiations in this area.
Initially, the author reviews the Bourdieu and Lahirian theories of the scholastic dispositions, and then sheds light on the perspective of the “academic form” developed by Guy Vincent. From these, it shows that French sociologists have very quickly and for a long time invested the question of academic success and social reproduction by focusing mainly on their social conditions of possibility, and by emphasizing the primordial role of school and cultural capital. Despite their differences, these three major approaches to the sociology of education highlight an unequal childish relationship to legitimate knowledge and the “academic form”, to the modes and rules (formal and informal) of learning of knowledge, know-how within the school. Girls and boys do not have only the same opportunities to “grow up” with academic norms and content according to their social background, but this necessary acculturation does not only involve the internalization of school culture. It also refers to language learning and submission to institutional authority. Children must integrate good knowledge, school knowledge, but also the right way to talk about themselves, to talk to others and to adults, whether they are teachers or facilitators.
Muriel Darmon continues her state of the art by presenting current research on school attitudes of children towards school, and breaks down her intention in three stages corresponding to three important stages of the school path: the nursery school, the college and the high school. She points out that educational inequalities linked to social origin occur and reproduce at an early age. In the nursery school, children of the lower classes do not already have the same experiences of the school world as those of the upper classes. When some discover the value of what they produce and what they are (especially through the attention given to them by teachers), the others are disqualified because of less integration of standards and school propriety. This early feeling of devaluation – and its consequences in terms of distancing the school universe – is found in middle school and then in high school, thus highlighting the existence of a large accumulation of inequalities related to social class throughout of the school trajectory.
She concludes her presentation by pointing out that almost all the terms of the questions originally asked “are children happy at school?” and “do they like school?” are problematic in so far as it is necessary to define what is meant by “children” (of what age, of what kind, of what social or geographical origin?), to grasp what researchers and their (young) respondents understand by “loving” or “being happy”, and finally clarifying or even giving a more stable outline to the word “school” (do we refer to the knowledge learned within the institution or the ways of being imposed by it? Is this a reference to the relationship between children/teachers and parent/teacher relations, or both?)
Maia Cucchiara (Temple University, USA): “More than just teachers: Building stronger student-teacher relationships to improve youth opportunities and well-being”
In her presentation, Maia Cucchiara focuses on relations between students and teachers and how they influence (more or less positively) the school results and the social and cognitive development of girls and boys, as well as their overall well-being. More precisely, the author endeavors to trace what has been said in the Anglo-Saxon literature about relations between students and teachers, the social conditions of possibility and the consequences, paying particular attention to the structures (organizational structures of the school) and practices fostering positive relationships between teachers and students.
After having defined and presented the main concepts used by social scientists working on relations between students and teachers, and in particular those of “school climate (positive)”, “confidence” and “feeling of being known”, the sociologist invites us to focus more precisely and more empirically on the relationships between children and teachers, and on this occasion wishes to emphasize why they are so important in the ordinary and school life of children.
First, the author points out that most of the American research agrees on the existence of a strong association between student-teacher relations and the academic success of children. Girls and boys who think their teachers are interested in them, are considering them and caring for them work better at school and have better results than those who do not think so. Some even suggest that positive relationships between children/teachers could “mediate” the well-established association between social classes and academic success. The link between “disadvantaged” schools and low educational attainment would tend to fade or even disappear when we control the quality of relations between students and teachers and students’ trust in their teachers. The results would appear to be strong enough for some authors to conclude that it is necessary to build and maintain teacher/student confidence in schools in order to reduce social inequalities.
Second, Maia Cucchiara returns to the social and racial variations of the children’s relations with the school institution and their teachers. Based on a wide literature in the science of education, she shows that class and race play an important role in the quality of teacher/student relations, as well as in the consequences for their well-being and school success of girls and boys. The difficulties faced by these groups of children can undermine and discredit their confidence in the school and their teachers, and hinder their (already low) chances of academic success because of their “cultural handicap”. She concludes that the quality of relations between students and teachers does not only depend on the social properties of students and teachers, but also on the social composition of the school, its climate and organization, as well as broader social and economic contexts.
Finally, Maia Cucchiara examines the factors that could contribute to favoring positive relations between students and teachers, and thus the school success and well-being of boys and girls (the most “vulnerable”). She underlines three main points: 1/ the importance of training teachers in sociology and taking into account the social and family contexts in which children live ; 2/ the provision of specialists in the (mental) health of children ; and 3/ declining class sizes to make it easier to build mutual trust.
Edgar Cabanas (U. Camilo José Cela, Spain): “Positive education and the rise of the happy student”
Edgar Cabanas focuses on what positive education is and what its limitations are. Positive education is characterized as the introduction of positive psychology that has been introduced in school and has now become a field in full emancipation. Over the last decade, the well-being of children and the recognition of their ‘positive skills’ have become the primary concern of parents, teachers and school staff. Some considered it as a real revolution. Others have seen this turning point as a new step towards a more neoliberal education. Positive education postulates that happiness is not only a goal in itself, but that it helps to prevent mental illnesses and to develop better academic skills. All this is supported by the growing number of nonprofit organizations, associations, private schools and international networks that advocate for positive education and ask political leaders to develop it in education systems: in 2018, more than 17 countries have joined positive education initiatives.
There is a significant rise in the scientific literature questioning the validity and efficacy of this positive education: the intervention programs claim that they produce essential resources for educational success, but there is no robust evidence of these results, not only because of the lack of empirical and comparative studies, but also because of a methodology that has significant gaps and ideological bias.
Edgar Cabanas questions this notion of positive education. According to him, this is an umbrella term for the implementation, in schools, of those positive psychology interventions that “have worked” in therapeutic contexts, organizations or the army. Positive education is inspired by several ambitious initiatives that have been carried out in school settings in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia from several intervention programs. Two main characteristics are the founders of this trend:
- a purely positive approach to education, which focuses on the repair of negative and dysfunctional behaviors (such as burnout, school failure, bullying) by primarily promoting positive and functional behaviors (such as resilience, self-esteem, hope, creativity, gratitude, achievement…). The educational benefits highlighted are the reduction of mental health problems in students, the prevention of mental health problems and a better life satisfaction for young people, as well as a higher sense of fulfillment.
- the assumption that well-being leads to better learning and higher school achievement. Well-being would establish a causal relationship between positive moods, skills and school performance. The two reasons would be that “students do good by feeling good” and that, unlike negative emotions, which only facilitate critical thinking, positive emotions open up a wider range of possibilities for reflection and creativity. Well-being would thus help to reduce the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged young people by facilitating employability and academic and professional performance.
The main criticisms are those that positive education does not respect the scientific standards and does not bring the educational advantages put forward by the defenders of the movement. They have recognized themselves important limitations and problems related to this movement, especially from a methodological point of view. their advocates also recognize the lack of standardized approaches to measure social and emotional skills, the very limited consideration of contextual factors, and publication bias with inconsistent effects across studies. The problem with positive education is not only that the evidences are generally scarce and insufficient, but that the movement is also theoretically incoherent, as several authors pointed out. Several examples have even shown that any causal relationship is not only unsustainable in the light of the evidences available to date, but it is even more likely that this causal relationship would be reversed and that some interventions have even given counterproductive results. In Spain, the situation is similar to other countries, and this is explained by the fact that finally the same arguments, problems, promises of this movement are repeated all over the world. There is little difference between countries.
Grant Duncan (Massey University, New Zealand): “New Zealand: Educational inequality in a high-performing system”
Grant Duncan is associate professor at Massey University (New-Zealand). He teaches political sciences, mainly in the fields of public policy and political theory. He is an active commentator on public affairs in New Zealand and has published in numerous journals, especially about happiness.
In his presentation, he underlines a paradox about the situation of his country New-Zealand. On one side, New-Zealand has higher than average results in the PISA survey in science, mathematics and reading, but on the other side, New-Zealand has also a big performance gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The effect of socio-economic background on PISA scores seems to be actually higher in New-Zealand than in the OECD average.
This inequality cannot be explained by immigration as the selectivity of immigration policy in New-Zealand favours skilled migrants and immigrant children are thus faring better than the average in New-Zealand. However, educational attainment rates are lower for lower socio-economic groups, for indigenous Māori and for the Pacific-Islands communities.
New Zealand has a long tradition of free public education, but which was a mono-cultural system, based upon the English model, and in which there was little or no recognition of indigenous Māori language or culture. Speaking Maori was even punished. Children of Māori and Pasifika families are more likely to begin with multiple, intersecting sources of disadvantage. Household incomes tend on average to be lower, parents are more likely to have lower-skilled occupations, and are more likely to be unemployed.
Arguably, PISA itself contributes to a mono-cultural model of individual achievement and system performance, for the sake of internationally comparable statistics and what gets measured, gets managed, argues Grant Duncan. But the skills measured by PISA do not also represent all the forms of valuable educational achievements or life-skills learnings. Māori and Pasifika communities are much less individualistic and PISA test results are based upon individual achievements.
Facing these issues, the first Maori school started to opened in the 1980’s and were recognized as part of the school system. Moreover, in the 2000’s, the project Kotahitanga (Unity) was set up in the mainstream schools to lift the educational achievements of all the Maori students, by building strong relations between and Maori parents and community. The results for Māori students in the Kotahitanga schools, compared with similar groups, were very positive.
Nigel Thomas (U. Of Central Lancashire, UK): “Well-being, recognition and participation: the challenge for schools”
Nigel Thomas is professor emeritus of Childhood and Youth Research at University of Central Lancashire (UK). He presents here two surveys carried out in the East of Australia since 2014. Both surveys are dealing with the concept of well-being of students, the first one was on the feeling of recognition at school, and the second survey on the need of participation.
The first survey, called “Improving approaches to well-being in schools: what roles does recognition play?”, supported by the Australian Research Council, was carried out in 2014. The aims of this survey were to analyze how well-being is understood by students, as well as teachers and policy makers and to investigate the potential explanatory factor of the Recognition Theory in relation to well-being, in order to generate new educational policies for student well-being.
Developed by Axel Honneth in 1995, the recognition theory was based on the Hegelian idea that we define and construct ourselves in relation “to the other”. Honneth also showed that there were three kinds of intersubjective recognition:
- Love: which is an intimate relationship in which the sense of self develops
- Rights: which is the mutual respect as persons under law
- And Solidarity: which is a reciprocal esteem for contribution to shared values.
The survey aimed to see how recognition and well-being were interacting at school. It was carried out by three ways: first through interviews with teachers and principals, then by Focus Groups with primary and secondary students and finally completed by online survey for students and staff.
The teachers and students expressed the importance of the quality of their relationships for the well-being of students at school. Well-being was centrally about relationships. Moreover, during the Focus Groups, the words that the students could give in relation to well-being could be linked with the three concepts of the recognition theory: love, or the feeling to be cared for, rights, or the feeling to be respected and solidarity, or the feeling to be valued. The categories of recognition resonated with both students and teachers and misrecognition was also clearly described as hindering well-being. “Having a say” was also something very present during the Focus Groups sessions.
Thus, the second survey focused on the role of participation in the well-being of students. The most important element of participation indicated by the students was working together with students and teachers. Having influence, choice or a say with influential people was also important, whereas having a voice, did not significantly linked with well-being if other elements were taken into account.
Students who reported more participation, also enjoyed more recognition and reported greater well-being. The results were the same regardless of gender, cultural background, disability and year group. This second survey completed the first one by showing that meaningful participation of the students could give them recognition – as they felt cared for, respected and valued at school – which had as an effect the improvement of their well-being.
Emmanuelle Godeau (EHESP, France) :“The specificity of France regarding school – Perspectives from the HBSC survey”
Emmanuelle Godeau’s presentation highlights the specificities of France regarding the question of school and the place of school in French society. Overall, in France, diplomas have a predominant role when it comes to finding a job, which is not necessarily the case in other countries that attach much more attention to other factors, such as experience. In addition, there is the question of emergency: we must find a job at any price and as quickly as possible, and for that we must obtain a diploma as soon as possible. There is therefore some pressure from the school system and the French society for students to quickly graduate and not find themselves in a situation of failure. In France, professional status is overvalued compared to other components: academic content is more valuable than technical skills, which increases inequalities. French families, especially middle-class families, have complex strategies for choosing their children’s schools: education is considered as an investment for the future. Parents must invest and children experience significant pressure throughout their school career.
The Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey is an international survey that examines the health condition and health behaviors of adolescents aged 11, 13 and 15 years. It has been conducted every four years since 1982 under the auspices of the WHO Regional Office for Europe and brings together, in its last wave, more than 40 countries to establish an accurate profile of health and the well-being of adolescents, as well as measuring their evolution. Emmanuelle Godeau presents here several results of the 2014 and 2018 data, on several school indicators (the fact of liking or not the school, the perception of school performance, the pressure felt by school work, the perception of the future and grade repetition). We learn that girls are more likely to like school than boys, but that as they grow older, and especially after the first year of middle school, girls and boys tend to like less and less to go to school, which is a very particular result for France. Less loving school when you grow up is found in all other countries, but what is specific to France is the sharp drop of students saying they love school between 11 and 13 years old, before to regain interest at the age of 15. Something difficult to explain is happening at the French school at the beginning of the middle school, which makes the students are upset by the school environment around 13 years old.
Her analyzes also show us that French students are not very stressed by school work compared to other countries, although with the advancing age, girls say they are more and more stressed. Regarding bullying at school, in France, there are 12% of victims and about 9% of bullies. 3% are both victims of bullying and bullies. But what we can see in France, which is good news, is that at the age of 11 and 15, school bullying has fallen sharply between 2010 and 2014, knowing that for the first time in France, in 2011, there was a national campaign against bullying at school, which, according to these results, was clearly effective.
Emmanuelle Godeau also shows that students who like school very much are also those who express a better perceived health and feel a high level of well-being. They also express fewer complaints and have no risk of depression. There is therefore a strong association between school rapport and student health.
Kevin Diter (EHESP, France): “ ’I hate you, you hate me’: Fortunes and Misfortunes of children’s playground and the important role of adults”
In his presentation, Kevin Diter proposes to ethnographically explore the question of the well-being of children who, for the past twenty years, has been mainly invested in a quantitative way. During this period, researchers focused on measuring the well-being of boys and girls, focusing on the creation of either physical and mental health indicators, or physical and mental health indicators, or material wealth and family indicators – or other so-called objective indicators. Once created, they focused on assessing the main structural and psychological factors, those that best explained the variations in living conditions between children in the same country, but also between different countries. As interesting as these researches are, they have contributed to make the definition of well-being complex and polysemous, and to put aside children’s voice and representations to happiness. To avoid these biases, some anthropologists and ethnologists have proposed to apprehend children’s well-being by conducting an ethnography of children’s daily life at home and at school. By analyzing children’s well-being in their daily environment, we can grasp in practice what make children happy and unhappy, how does this happen, under what circumstances.
More precisely, this presentation aims at thinking children’s well-being “in a negative way”, i.e. by precisely describing the situations that make boys and girls unhappy or sad, and by emphasizing the social conditions of possibility of these situations. By focusing on the social/sociological determinants of children’s malaise, we can get an idea of the factors that promote happiness, since these emotions are relational.
From an ethnography of the daily life of children at school, the sociologist tries to underline:
- What exactly make boys and girls cry and uncomfortable during playtime, and sometimes lead them to fight with each other;
- The key role of peers and adults in these difficult situations
At first, Kevin Diter highlights the two main reasons that make girls and boys sad, unhappy, or at least make them cry and fight during recess. The first, the best known, is the absence of friends with whom to play during free periods at school. He shows that being alone and not being able to have fun with someone is particularly difficult for children. Regardless of their age and their social background, girls and boys portray a child as someone who plays. But to be able to play, you need someone who plays with you, so you need a friend. Without a friend, it is difficult to fulfill the role of child, to be “a real child”. Playing (with someone) is at the heart of the ‘full-time occupation of being a child’ That’s why friends are so important in children’s life. The second situation, which is partly related to the first, is when boys and girls lose face in front of adults and their friends. This is the case when they do “stupid things” and they are reprimanded by the teachers or when they are “contaminated” and all the other children flee them like the plague as soon as they approach.
The sociologist concludes his presentation by highlighting the fact that these difficult situations for children do not come at random and do not concern all children. They are found mostly among children of the lower classes and girls and act as a way to prioritize the playground and recreate the social order and gender order.
Cecilia Von Otter (U. Of Stockholm, Sweden): “Schooling, well-being and agency among Swedish children”
Cecilia Von Otter (Stockholm University, Sweden) presents the main features of the Swedish school system and some results from quantitative surveys (PISA, OECD, TIMSS). In Sweden, the school system is by regions; some regions have poor results and many problems in schools. From one city to another, and sometimes from one neighborhood to another, there are many differences in terms of students’ academic success. The Swedish school system is recognized for its high quality pre-school, high coverage and low cost. But students’ academic performance is only measured from mid-school, which is relatively late. The aim is to quickly implement the school performance measurement earlier in order to improve the Swedish school system and student support, which is only being implemented from the age of 12. In Sweden, differences in student achievement by socio-economic background are increasing and this late measure of school performance contributes to school segregation by parents’ education level and migration status. Even in the least segregated schools, students from less advantaged backgrounds do less well than others. We need to be more attentive to these inequalities, which, since the 2000s, tend nevertheless to slightly reduce.
With a chart that presents trends from international surveys of student-to-school ratios in the 2000s, Cecilia Von Otter shows that since 2006, most of the Swedish students surveyed report a pleasant and positive atmosphere in their classrooms. However, fewer and fewer students report that school gives them the desire to learn more. Cécilia Von Otter explains that the growing search for academic success, rather than the learning of knowledge, could be an explanation for this decline. The results also tell us that since 2002, more and more students report experiencing stress every day at school. Regarding the relationship with parents in Sweden, 90% of children aged 10 to 18 say that they get on well with their parents and that they have time to spend with them (92% of children say that their mother is available and 87% for fathers). But parents need to be helped on the issue of social networks, as the use of digital media has increased dramatically and the Internet is now fully integrated into the daily lives of most children. On weekdays, Swedish children aged 12 to 15 are 51% to spend at least 3h / day on the Internet, and 72% when they are between 16 and 18 years old. The risk with these social networks is cyber bullying. The solution, to avoid this, is not to deny them access, but rather to discuss with them and to take an interest in them.
Cecilia Von Otter also reports results on the health and well-being of adolescents between 2004 and 2016 and shows that girls are far more likely than boys to have minor problems (worries, fears, anxiety) between the ages of 15 and 24 for 50% of them, compared with 30% for boys. With regard to the more severe problems, girls are also more numerous than boys, but the gap is much narrower: they are 10% to say that and about 7% for boys. These results must be taken seriously to prevent the risk of mental problems and suicides. The results also show that Swedish young people are taking more and more antidepressants between the ages of 15 and 24 and are suffering from more and more behavioral problems.
It is important to remind policymakers to be sensitive to the conditions of children and adolescents so that they question the impact of their decisions on the majority of children, but also on the most vulnerable children. Cecilia Von Otter concludes by saying that we need to push for policies to improve the social environment for children, while monitoring the socio-economic redistribution necessary for a “good environment”.
Kathryn Ecclestone (U. of Sheffield, UK): “Changing the subject of education: the impact of a crisis of vulnerability approaches to well-being”
Kathryn Ecclestone is visiting Professor of education at the University of Sheffield (UK). Her research explores the ways in which preoccupation with ‘emotional well-being’, ‘resilience’ and ‘vulnerability’ encourages the spread of ideas and practices from therapy, counselling and psychology throughout the education system, changing teacher/student relationships, the curriculum and support systems.
Kathryn Ecclestone is the author of The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education (2008), co-authored with Dennis Hayes, and Emotional Well-Being in Educational Policy and Practice (2017). She points out that since the 1990’s, in Great Britain, numerous policy reports, mainstream and social media have proffered an enduring and apocalyptic ‘sense of crisis about the declining emotional and psychological states of British children and young people. It started to intertwine with curriculum content, pedagogy and assessment, as well as beliefs and values. According to her, this period was the rise of therapeutic culture into education.
In this context, the students, as other individuals of the society, is presented as inherently psychologically vulnerable. He or she is seen as potentially fragile, anxious, stressed or pressured. “Vulnerable” has become a word very used in families, media, institutional practices and conversations in Britain. Kate Brown talked in 2015 of a ‘vulnerability zeitgeist’.
Kathryn Ecclestone argues that this vision of the ‘diminished’ subject encourages assumptions about the negative impact of curriculum knowledge, teaching and assessment on well-being and that one outcome is the risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes students, educators and parents increasingly cautious about the psycho-emotional impact of education. According to her, this create tensions between encouraging self-reliance and ability to cope with everyday disappointments and challenges, and resourcing effective support for real psycho-emotional needs.
As a result, well-being has become a key goal at all levels of the education system. She points out a series of policy initiatives reflecting vague understandings of ‘well-being’, which has been framed, as ‘social and emotional aspects of learning’ and ‘emotional well-being’, ‘character education’ associated notions of ‘resilience’ and ‘mental toughness’ and, currently, ‘mental health.’ These discourses, promoted by the commercial industry of well-being and lobbying groups have institutionalized psychological claims, vocabularies and activities as a means to prevent and ameliorate poor well-being/mental health in all educational settings. This context of the therapeutic culture had already had impact as the constant surveillance of well-being and mental health of the students, or the creation of mental health-friendly curriculum (e.g avoiding taking about rape in law courses, racial or sexual violence in literature, or exams on Emile Durkheim’s seminal study of suicide from A-level psychology).
Instead of this, Kathryn Ecclestone is calling for a more holistic approach to well-being, rooted in rich curriculum knowledge, meaningful activities that take young people into a world outside themselves, strong social relationships and positive expectations.
Michel Vandenbroeck (U. Of Gent, Belgium): “Is Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) part of the solution of inequalities, or is it part of the problem?”
Michel Vandenbroeck (Ghent University, Belgium) examines critically the discourses about early childhood education and care (ECEC) as a solution to issues of inequality. He emphasizes that in recent decades, the policies in charge of this issue have moved towards a notion of equality of opportunities, instead of equality of outcomes, equating ECEC with an “equalizer”. The focus on equality of opportunity concurred with a shift in policies from redistribution of wealth to the question of the equalisandum (a philosophical term which means that in an egalitarian conception of justice the advantages must be equalized among members of a set domain). Education in general and early childhood education is increasingly seen as a central issue in equal opportunity politics. Michel Vandenbroeck points out three principles which, according to him, are characteristic of our present society and which also apply to the field of the education of children:
- “Everything must be consensual”: early childhood education comes into the picture as the potential and consensual solution to many social problems. Michel Vandenbroeck recalls Frank Field’s (2010) statement that it is family background, parental education, good parenting and the opportunities for learning and development in those crucial years that together matter more to children than money, in determining whether their potential is realised in adult life. It is an observation that is advanced to solve the social problems in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but also in Belgium.
- “Everything must be economic”: the predominance of economic problems has affected ECEC. This was first noticeable by its growing merchandising, based on the assumptions that markets strengthen competition and thus ensure quality and economic efficiency. The commodification is also noticeable in the ways in which early childhood policies are increasingly discussed with economic arguments, including the famous “return on investment” argument, as well as the famous “Heckman curve”, illustrating that investing in the youngest children yields the highest economic returns.
- “The layperson cannot see”: Since the turn of the millennium the neuro-argument about early childhood education is prevailing, raising the expectation that the neurosciences will explain it all. Neurosciences and brain images are increasingly popping up in documents of policy makers, but also of NGO’s, advocating for investments in the early years. Emphasis is also placed on parents who are in deficit with the use of parent training programs to improve their parenting skills.
According to a report for the European commission (2019), all EU Member States face lower enrolment rates for children from ethnic minorities, refugee children, children with special needs and children from poor families, compared to the general population. These inequalities mainly concern the youngest children and are higher when school enrollment rates are lower than elsewhere. In addition, the conditions are often not met for the preschool to be up to the societal expectation regarding creating equal opportunities. Expectations are growing, but they are not accompanied by investments or pedagogies that enable the preschool to match these expectations.
The debate on the aims of early childhood education (and who should participate in this debate) should be opened. Is early childhood care and education the best tool to fight child poverty? Research informs us that ECEC can alleviate the impact of poverty on children and therefore can contribute to equal opportunities and thus to a fairer society. However, it cannot solve problems that are in essence also material and social.
Cath Larkins (U. Of Central Lancashire, UK): “Reimagining schooling from the perspectives of marginalised children and young people”
Cath Larkins is Senior Research Fellow in Children’s Citizenship at University of Central Lancashire (UK). She is specialized in theories and practices of participatory research and children’s lives and social citizenship. She has worked as a researcher, participation consultant and children’s rights activist for Save the Children, The Children’s Society, Action for Children and the Welsh government.
In her presentation, Cath Larkins goes through data from participatory research conducted over 10 years with marginalised children and young to explore their experiences and aspirations for their present and their future. She wants to outline here some of the key tensions between dominant expectations for children and the children’s own goals, highlighting the significance of competing conceptions of children’s citizenship.
According to her, there is indeed a tension between the education policy at European and national levels, where governments and parents place expectations of educational achievement on children, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the first one, education is seen to give key competences needed for an economy in precarity in which individuals must adapt in from of adversity to fit the demands of changing economies. In the latter, education is supporting the full development of the child to suits its personality and interests and citizenship is not seen as a responsibility but as a right.
Going through ten studies she carried out between 2003 and 2019, composed of qualitative interviews and focus groups using her participatory framework, Cath Larkins finds six themes relating to well-being for which children have expressed a desire of change:
- Peer relationships: children have expressed the need for the absence of bullying, presence of friendship and positive peer relationships
- Relationship with teaching staff: children have expressed a positive learning environment, requiring the right attitude of the teaching staffs and support systems
- Inclusion and diversity: children have expressed the need for recognition and respect for cultural expressions and ethnic differences and also the staff to be able to understand these issues and enable long term trusting relationships with parents.
- Relevant learning opportunities: children expressed the need for personalised education provision and opportunities for learning across borders.
- Punishment and privacy: children expressed the unfairness of some punishments and degrading treatments.
- Participation: children expressed the wish to be heard, taken seriously and to be part of designing the solutions to the problems they are encountering and not having the feeling to be participating to answer other people’s goals and to be finally not listened to.
In order to integrate a more children’s rights-based approach, Cath Larkins thinks that the capability approach would be more relevant. Children can be involved in defining the components parts (capabilities and functioning) that are needed to achieve well-being. Moreover, the capability approach focuses on equality of outcomes and not of opportunities. Thus, it demands some individualised tailoring of education and social provision to redress inequalities.
Furthermore, Cath Larkins also conceptualised children’s citizenship practices at school as: negotiating the rules of co-existence (which link to adult practices of voting and law making); social contributions (which promote and fulfil dominant expectations of social good); and neo-liberal citizenship (fulfilling one’s own rights in the absence of social provision).
Cath Larkins concludes that public debate should be engaged with children, seen as partners, who can define their well-being, give information and become more involved in co-directing school improvements. This would also meet societal needs, as well as some of the EU’s concerns: an environment in which individuality is valued, creativity is enabled, fairness is experienced in the moment and shared goals for sustainable futures are identified and pursued.