Tagged / children

How culture influences children’s development

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

By Dr Ching-Yu HuangBournemouth University.

From educational toys to governmental guidelines and detailed nursery progress reports, there are lots of resources available to help parents track and facilitate their children’s development. But while there are tricks we can use to teach children to talk, count, draw or respect others, a surprisingly big part of how they develop is determined by the culture they grow up in.

Child development is a dynamic, interactive process. Every child is unique in interacting with the world around them, and what they invoke and receive from others and the environment also shapes how they think and behave. Children growing up in different cultures receive specific inputs from their environment. For that reason, there’s a vast array of cultural differences in children’s beliefs and behaviour.

Language is one of the many ways through which culture affects development. We know from research on adultsthat languages forge how people think and reason. Moreover, the content and focus of what people talk about in their conversations also vary across cultures. As early as infancy, mothers from different cultures talk to their babies differently. German mothers tend to focus on their infants’ needs, wishes or them as a person. Mothers of the African tribal group Nso, on the other hand, focus more on social context. This can include the child’s interactions with other people and the rules surrounding it.

Masai children. Syndromeda/Shutterock

This early exposure affects the way children attend to themselves or to their relationship with others – forming their self image and identity. For example, in Western European and North American countries, children tend to describe themselves around their unique characteristics – such as “I am smart” or “I am good at drawing”. In Asian, African, Southern European and South American countries, however, children describe themselves more often around their relationship with others and social roles. Examples of this include “I am my parents’ child” or “I am a good student”.

Because children in different cultures differ in how they think about themselves and relate to others, they also memorise events differently. For example, when preschoolers were asked to describe a recent special personal experience, European-American children provided more detailed descriptions, recalled more specific events and stressed their preferences, feelings and opinions about it more than Chinese and Korean children. The Asian children instead focused more on the people they had met and how they related to themselves.

Cultural effects of parenting

Parents in different cultures also play an important role in moulding children’s behaviour and thinking patterns. Typically, parents are the ones who prepare the children to interact with wider society. Children’s interaction with their parents often acts as the archetype of how to behave around others – learning a variety of socio-cultural rules, expectations and taboos. For example, young children typically develop a conversational style resembling their parents’ – and that often depends on culture.

European-American children frequently provide long, elaborative, self-focused narratives emphasising personal preferences and autonomy. Their interaction style also tends to be reciprocal, taking turns in talking. In contrast, Korean and Chinese children’s accounts are usually brief, relation-oriented, and show a great concern with authority. They often take a more passive role in the conversations. The same cultural variations in interaction are also evident when children talk with an independent interviewer.

Children in the Western world question their parents’ authority more. Gargonia/Shutterstock

Cultural differences in interactions between adults and children also influence how a child behaves socially. For instance, in Chinese culture, where parents assume much responsibility and authority over children, parents interact with children in a more authoritative manner and demand obedience from their children. Children growing up in such environments are more likely to comply with their parents’ requests, even when they are reluctant to do so.

By contrast, Chinese immigrant children growing up in England behave more similarly to English children, who are less likely to follow parental demands if unwilling.

From class to court

As the world is getting increasingly globalised, knowledge regarding cultural differences in children’s thinking, memory and how they interact with adults has important practical implications in many areas where you have to understand a child’s psychology. For instance, teachers may need to assess children who come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Knowing how children coming from a different culture think and talk differently can help the teacher better interview them as part of an oral academic test, for example.

Another important area is forensic investigations. Being aware that Chinese children tend to recall details regarding other people and be brief in their initial response to questions may enable the investigator to allow more time for narrative practice to prepare the child to answer open-ended questions and prompt them with follow up questions.

Also, knowing that Chinese children may be more sensitive and compliant to authority figures – and more obedient to a perpetrator within the family – an interviewer may need to spend more time in building rapport to help the child relax and reduce their perceived authority. They should also be prepared to be patient with reluctance in disclosing abuse within families.

While children are unique and develop at their own pace, the cultural influence on their development is clearly considerable. It may even affect how quickly children reach different developmental milestones, but research on this complicated subject is still inconclusive. Importantly, knowledge about cultural differences can also help us pin down what all children have in common: an insatiable curiosity about the world and a love for the people around them.


Dr Ching-Yu Huang, Lecturer in Psychology, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What ancient footprints can tell us about what it was like to be a child in prehistoric times

File 20180212 58327 vep4i.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Footprint from 700,000 years ago. Matthew Bennett, Author provided

By Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Sally Reynolds.

Western society has a rather specific view of what a good childhood should be like; protecting, sheltering and legislating to ensure compliance with it. However, perceptions of childhood vary greatly with geography, culture and time. What was it like to be a child in prehistoric times, for example – in the absence of toys, tablets and television?

In our new paper, published in Scientific Reports, we outline the discovery of children’s footprints in Ethiopia which show how children spent their time 700,000 years ago.

We first came across the question of what footprints can tell us about past childhood experiences a few years back while studying some astonishingly beautiful children’s footprints in Namibia, just south of Walvis Bay. In archaeological terms the tracks were young, dating only from around 1,500 years ago. They were made by a small group of children walking across a drying mud surface after a flock of sheep or goats. Some of these tracks were made by children as young as three-years-old in the company of slightly older children and perhaps young adolescents.

Namibian footprints. Matthew Bennett, Author provided

The detail in these tracks, preserved beneath the shifting sands of the Namibian Sand Sea, is amazing, and the pattern of footfall – with the occasional skip, hop and jump – shows they were being playful. The site also showed that children were trusted with the family flock of animals from an early age and, one assumes, they learnt from that experience how to function as adults were expected to within that culture.

No helicopter parents

But what about the childhood of our earlier ancestors – those that came before anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens)? Children’s tracks by Homo antecessor (1.2m to 800,000 years ago) were found at Happisburgh in East Anglia, a site dating to a million years ago. Sadly though, these tracks leave no insight into what these children were doing.

Reconstruction of Homo Heidelbergensis. Jose Luis Martinez Alvarez/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

But the footprints described in our recent study – from a remarkable site in the Upper Awash Valley of Southern Ethiopia that was excavated by researchers from the Università di Roma “La Sapienza” – reveal a bit more. The children’s tracks were probably made by the extinct species Homo heidelbergensis(600,000 to 200,000 years ago), occurring next to adult prints and an abundance of animal tracks congregated around a small, muddy pool. Stone tools and the butchered remains of a hippo were also found at the site, called Melka Kunture.

This assemblage of tracks is capped by an ash flow from a nearby volcano which has been dated to 700,000 years ago. The ash flow was deposited shortly after the tracks were left, although we don’t know precisely how soon after. The tracks are not as anatomically distinct as those from Namibia but they are smaller and may have been made by children as young as one or two, standing in the mud while their parents and older siblings got on with their activities. This included knapping the stone tools with which they butchered the carcass of the hippo.

The findings create a unique and momentary insight into the world of a child long ago. They clearly were not left at home with a babysitter when the parents were hunting. In the harsh savannah plains of the East African Rift Valley, it was natural to bring your children to such daily tasks, perhaps so they could observe and learn.

This is not surprising, when one considers the wealth of ethnographic evidence from modern, culturally distinct human societies. Babies and children are most often seen as the lowliest members of their social and family groups. They are often expected to contribute to activities that support the mother, and the wider family group, according to their abilities. In many societies, small boys tend to help with herding, while young girls are preferred as babysitters. Interestingly, adult tools – like axes, knives, machetes, even guns – are often freely available to children as a way of learning.

Artistic impression of scene at Melka Kunture. Matthew Bennett, Author provided

So, if we picture the scene at Melka Kunture, the children observing the butchery were probably allowed to handle stone tools and practice their skills on discarded pieces of carcass while staying out of the way of the fully-occupied adults. This was their school room, and the curriculum was the acquisition of survival skills. There was little time or space to simply be a child, in the sense that we would recognise today.

This was likely the case for a very long time. The Monte Hermoso Human Footprint Site in Argentina (roughly 7,000-years-old) contains predominantly small tracks (of children and women) preserved in coastal sediments and it has been suggested that the children may have played an important role in gathering seafood or coastal resources. Similarly, most of the tracks in the Tuc d’Audoubert Cave in France (15,000-years-old) are those of children and the art there is striking. Perhaps they were present when it was carved and painted?

However, these observations contrasts to the story that emerged last year based on tracks from the older Homo Homo erectus (1.5m-year-old) at Ileret, located further south in the Rift Valley, just within the northern border of Kenya. Here the tracks have been interpreted as the product of adult hunting groups moving along a lake shore, rather than a domestic scene such as that at Melka Kunture. However, these scenes aren’t mutually exclusive and both show the power of footprints to provide a snapshot into past hominin behaviour.

But it does seem like the overwhelming parenting lesson from the distant past is that children had more responsibilities, less adult supervision and certainly no indulgence from their parents. It is a picture of a childhood very different from our own, at least from the privileged perspective of life in Western society.

 

Matthew Robert Bennett, Professor of Environmental and Geographical Sciences, Bournemouth University and Sally Christine Reynolds, Senior Lecturer in Hominin Palaeoecology, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nesta’s 18 reasons to prioritise the early years of a child’s life

In 2017, Nesta launched the Early Years Social Action Fund to scale proven social action programmes that help children aged four to achieve developmental milestones by directly supporting parents.  The £1 million fund was used to support organisations that are making an impact, but require support to scale up. Having supported dozens of social action programmes to scale, Nesta have seen that social action works best when there is a clear role to complement, not replace public services, where opportunities fit in and around people’s lives and where any skills needed can be codified and learnt by many.

As the UK struggles with challenges of stagnating social mobility, increasing inequality, and lagging productivity, Nesta have compiled a list of 18 reasons why the early years of a child’s life are so important for social mobility and people’s life chances which show why in 2018 we need to do more to support new ideas that help give all children the best chance to fulfil their potential.

18 reasons to prioritise early years in 2018

  1. By the time children start school, the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers can be as large as 15 months.

  2. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers by age three.

  3. Almost half of all children from disadvantaged backgrounds do not reach their expected level of development when they start school (29 per cent of all children).

  4. In the last decade, more than 2.5 million children in England – including over 580,000 poorer children – did not reach a good level of development by age five.

  5. Opportunity is very unevenly distributed. Disadvantaged children in the best areas are twice as likely to reach a good level of development at age five, compared with similar children in the worst areas.

  6. Gaps are evident by age two and a child’s development at as young as 22 months has been proven to be a good predictor for educational outcomes at age 26.

  7. Of the £9.1 billion the UK Government is spending on early years, just £250 million will reach the most disadvantaged families. Or just 2.7 per cent.

  8. In 2012, the UK was ranked 22nd out of 25 OECD countries for the proportion of expenditure in early years focused on closing the gap in opportunity.

  9. In almost all OECD countries, 15-year-old students who had access to early education outperformed students who had not.

  10. The gap between disadvantaged children and their peers in numeracy and literacy is particularly stark, with a 14 per cent gap in reading attainment, 15 per cent in writing, and 13 per cent in numbers.

  11. The lowest gap is in technology, which if harnessed properly, could potentially help lower the gaps in other areas.

  12. Good early education opportunities improve child outcomes regardless of family disadvantage or the quality of the home learning environment.

  13. The gap in educational attainment by the time a child starts school is one of the key drivers of social mobility, equivalent to, for example, up to two years of learning by the time they sit their GSCEs.

  14. The biggest indicator in how well a child does in their GCSEs is the progress that child has made by the age of five.

  15. Better educational attainment leads to higher qualifications and higher wages later in life.

  16. Top university graduates earn significantly more, on average, than graduates from less prestigious universities, and non-university graduates.

  17. Social mobility is a key driver in productivity and economic growth. A modest increase in the UK’s social mobility to the average across Western Europe would increase annual GDP by 2 per cent in the long term (or an additional £39bn to the UK economy).

  18. The quality of the home learning environment is more important for intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income. In other words, what parents do at home is more important than who your parents are.

These 18 reasons go to show that early years is at the heart of social mobility. They underscore the importance – both at an individual and societal level – of focusing on ideas and interventions that can impact child outcomes as soon as possible so that no child begins school behind the starting line.

If you would like to find out more about the Early Years Social Action programme, any of the specific projects or how you can commission early years innovations, please get in touch at will.bibby@nesta.org.uk.

IRW Researching with Children and Young People: Method and Mayhem

WhoAshley WoodfallAWoodfall

Where and when: Executive Business Centre, Monday, 25th January – 16:00-18:00

What: This ‘catalyst’ event is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in research with children and young people to:

  • meet BU researchers from across the university
  • share experiences and future research ambitions; and
  • develop future research partnerships

Operating in a ‘bring and buy’ spirit, this event recognises the benefits of sharing knowledge and expertise across different disciplines. The event is open to all those interested in research with children and young people whatever their research interests, affiliation or tradition.

Book your placeInterdisResWeek2

Latest EU Social Sciences & Humanities funding

Free movement of lawyers: proposals should evaluate the legal framework for the free movement of lawyers against market and regulatory developments in the single market. Funding is worth up to €500,000 over 11 months. Deadline 15.09.11

Socio-economic impacts of new measures to improve accessibility of goods and services for people with disabilities: proposals should explore the merits of adopting EU regulatory measures to substantially improve the proper functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services, including measures to step up the use of public procurement.  Funding is worth up to €800,000 over 12 months. Deadline: 22.08.11

Roma in education: this funding supports transnational cooperation projects in the development and implementation of coherent and comprehensive joined-up educational measures to raise the participation and attainment levels of Roma students in general education and vocational educational training, and to support network activities for awareness-raising of the social integration of Roma children and students.  The total budget for the call is €584,000 and each grant is worth up to €150,000 over a maximum of 12 months. Deadline: 16.09.11

European policy network on the education of children and young people with a migrant background: this funding supports cross-European collaboration between high level decision makers, academics and practitioners for raising the educational attainment of children and young people from a migrant background. The maximum duration of projects is 36 months, and a total budget of €500,000 is available for 2012. Deadline 14.10.11

Support for the Digitisation of European Cinemas: the aim of the ‘digitisation of cinemas’ scheme is to encourage cinemas showing a significant percentage of non-national European works to exploit the possibilities offered by digital. This call for proposals aims to facilitate the digital transition of cinemas screening European films by supporting the side costs linked to the purchase of a digital projector. Closing date: 15 September 2011

e-Skills for Competitiveness and Innovation: the aim of this fund is to develop, with relevant stakeholders, a coherent vision and a detailed roadmap as well as foresight scenarios on the supply and demand of e-skills for competitiveness and innovation in Europe (2011–2015).  It will build on the momentum of the EU e-skills strategy. The skills needed include ICT, marketing, design, law, management, etc. for entrepreneurs, managers and ICT professionals and advanced users in all industries. Closing date: 16 September 2011

EU Social Sciences and Humanities funding available

European instrument for democracy and human rights – enhancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms where they are most at risk and supporting human rights defenders: proposals should explore the enhancment,  respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in countries and situations where they are most at risk and where human rights defenders and civil society organisations work under severe constraints and are most under pressure. Grants are worth between €150,000 and €2m. Closing date: 1 August 2011.

European instrument for democracy and human rights restricted call for proposals: proposals should explore contributions to the development and consolidation of democracy and the rule of law and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Grants are worth between €200,000 and €1.5m. Closing date: 1 August 2011.

European Policy Network on the Education of Children and Young People with a Migrant Background: proposals should address the issues raised by the November 2009 Council conclusions on the education of children from a migrant background and stimulate high-level cooperation between Member State policy makers responsible for social inclusion through education, including cooperation between authorities in the countries of origin and host countries. The network should actively stimulate transnational cooperation primarily at governmental level, but also at the level of experts and practitioners. Grants are worth  €500,000. Closing date: 14 October 2011.