A child’s environment plays a vital role in their development, and therefore researching the effects of environmental factors on children is key. Environmental pressures can have a significant impact on children and childhood development. For instance, climate change has led to an increase in extreme weather events and natural disasters, including floods, droughts, and hurricanes, which is having a particularly adverse effect on children in deprived or disadvantaged areas. Children are in a stage of development and are therefore more vulnerable to the deprivation and stress caused by environmental change. Furthermore, rapid urbanisation and population growth is leading to overcrowding in urban areas, which can negatively impact children by placing strain on local bodies and resources, such as schools and accommodation. Developing strategies to address environmental pressures and their effect on children is becoming increasingly important, and understanding these issues is essential to future research in children and childhood development.
The local and wider community can have a significant impact on children and childhood. A child’s community can include their school, their teachers, their family, and their peers, all of whom can contribute to a child’s welfare and development. The community can act as a vital support network, particularly for children in poverty or economically deprived areas. Assessing the impact of the community and its influence of children and childhood is an essential area of research. For instance, research can clarify intergenerational relations, and the role of new measures within schools and youth bodies to actively support families through parent-support groups and workshops. Furthermore, the community can have a direct impact on a child’s wellbeing and behaviour, and as a result it is important to directly involve these communities when researching children and childhood.
Health issues can have a considerable effect on children and childhood. Long-term illness and disability significantly impact on childhood and child development, including limiting access to resources, education, and the appropriate level of care. Furthermore, the health and well-being of community members, including close relatives, can also considerably impact children. Indeed, children are increasingly adopting roles conventionally assigned to adults, such as acting as carers for parents and siblings, which is increasing levels of stress at a time when children are most vulnerable. Furthermore, mental health issues are being reported at increasing levels amongst children and young people. Research in this area is vital, so as to better understand the causes, effects, and impact of this growing mental health crisis.
The last few decades have been marked by rapid technological development and change, the pace of which has increased substantially each year. These periods of rapid technological change have considerably impacted children and childhood. For example, unequal access to technology can increase levels of social inequality or restrict access to education and educational initiatives, as well as exacerbate generational gaps. Furthermore, the increasing use of social media amongst young people has been shown to have a direct physical and mental health effects on children, including a significant increase in body satisfaction issues, and the development of obsessive/addictive exercise or eating behaviours. However, technology can also benefit children and child development, through offering new avenues for learning, health promotion and prevention, socialisation and allowing particularly vulnerable children to address feelings of isolation amongst their peers in their local community. Incorporating technologies in future research is essential, due to its growing role in the everyday life of children and the wider world as a whole, as well as the very real and powerful impacts technology can have on young people’s learning, behaviours and development.
There is a growing need to empower children, both through education and through directly involving children in policymaking. Policymakers are creating strategies to combat key issues, such as environmental change, unequal access to education, and the effect of technological development on child development and well-being. As these issues directly affect children and their future, it is vital that policymakers introduce children’s perspective and have their direct input in the research of the future. Furthermore, empowering children can be beneficial, through improving a child’s confidence in decision-making and helping to bridge the generational gap. The conventional method of empowering children is through education. However, it is also important to reach children who are not in education, as these groups are the most vulnerable, and are more likely to be directly affected by the issues being addressed by policymakers today.
Equality, risk and violence
Disparities in equality can have a considerable impact on children and childhood. Social inequality presents in multiple forms, such as economic equality caused by class systems, inequality caused by discriminatory practices on racial grounds, and inequality caused by discrimination based on sex or gender differences. Children are particularly vulnerable to issues caused by a lack of equality, including inconsistent access to education, gender-related violence, the detrimental effects of living in poverty or in overcrowded spaces, as well as an unequal access to basic necessities, such as accommodation and adequate food and water. However, conventionally privileged groups, such as white middle-class males in the UK, have also been shown to be on average academically low-achievers. The question of equality and its role in childhood and child development is therefore a complex one, and one which requires considerable research.