Childhood in crisis? Tracing the contours of ‘crisis’ and its impact upon contemporary parenting practices

Kehily, Mary Jane (2010). Childhood in crisis? Tracing the contours of ‘crisis’ and its impact upon contemporary parenting practices. Media, Culture & Society, 32(2) pp. 171–185.



At the beginning of the twenty-first century media commentary and public discourses on childhood commonly invoke a notion of ‘crisis’. This paper poses the question, what is new about the current invocation of crisis and how does it manifest itself? Specifically, the paper explores the ways in which media texts, cultural commentary and policy documents/initiatives collectively produce a dominant discourse of childhood in crisis. I aim to trace the anatomy of this so-called ‘crisis’ in childhood, to examine how far it exists and what the main features of such a crisis may look like from different perspectives. In doing so I consider and comment upon the relationship between the past and the present and the ways in which a historical perspective can be instructive in understanding how concerns about childhood are conceptualised and given meaning. Based on an analysis of cultural texts that promote or collude in the normative idea of a crisis in childhood, the paper provides alternative ways of conceptualising prevailing ideas and assumptions of crisis and calamity. The paper draws upon a textual analysis of pregnancy magazines to examine the ways in which parents may be responding to the idea of a crisis in childhood and the impact this has on their parenting practices. Finally, the paper argues that contemporary meanings of childhood are shaped by the links between the past and present, to be found in residual notions of childhood in the popular imagination and contemporary accounts of risk and crisis. In the context of contemporary childrearing, cultural texts and residual meanings cohere to produce a reconfigured version of childhood that can be seen as a generative mixture of romantic, late modern and scientific identifications.

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