Life chances is an idea ‘for a happy, healthy childhood, as well as a protected and fulfilling adulthood’ (CPAG, 2016). Norozi, S. and Moen, T. (2016) states that childhood is socially constructed which means it is created and defined by society. The meaning of childhood differs between various times, places and cultures. There is a variation in people in different societies that think about what children should and should not be doing at certain ages and how they should be socialised. Improving children and young people’s life chances during their childhood stage enhances their quality of life for when they become an adult. Children and young people’s life chances can be decreased or improved by many factors whether it be due to their social class or ethnicity. This essay will explore the economic factors which are material deprivation and cultural deprivation, cultural factors such as language, parenting styles and the treatment from schools, and finally the social factors which are mental health and misuse of alcohol and drugs. The essay will evaluate how the factors affect the life chances of children and young people.
There are many factors that affect children and young people’s life chances economically, such as material deprivation, cultural deprivation and cultural capital. Material deprivation refers to the inability to afford basic resources such as adequate diet, housing, clothing and lack of income. Tanner (2003) states that the cost of the resources for school such as books, computers and uniforms have a disadvantage and a burden on working class families. Working class children may have to use cheap equipment or resources that have been use that has been passed down to them which can have a negative impact on the child’s self-esteem due to bullying. Bullying will then lead to working class children being socially isolated as no one will want to hang out with them which can lead to exclusion form the norms of children’s society. This links to the work of Ridge (2012) who talks about how working-class children are more likely to be bullied by their peers, due to lacking resources, therefore will affect their educational performance. This affects their life chances as social exclusion, among their peers, could continue into their adulthood which could cause exclusion from society as adults. This will make it hard for them to socialise with other people such as colleagues. Also, having a low income may restrict working class children from wanting to go on to university due to the fear of debt which can reduce their life chances due to them missing out on opportunities.
Although, material depravation may reduce the life chances for children and young people in schools, many schools now provide resources such as textbooks and books. Also, the government provides Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), if the child is eligible, and will be given £30 a week to help with studying costs. This is only for children in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For children in England, they will be able to get a 16-19 bursary fund to help with their studying costs.
Cultural depravation is a theory where a group, such as the working class, have the lack of certain norms, values, skills and knowledge that is needed for educational achievement. Parents who have a lack of interest in their children’s education can replicate the values they have. Working class have diverse goals, beliefs, attitudes and values from the rest of the society therefore, this results their children to fail at school. Douglas (1964) says that working-class parents do not think education is valuable, they do not take interest and are not encouraging with their child’s education as they are less likely to visit schools and discuss their children’s progress with teachers. This could result to working class children having low ambitions and lack motivation to do good in schools due to a lack of parenting encouragement. Feinstein (2008) also concluded this as he found that the education of the parent is an important factor that affects children’s achievement. Middle class parents are more likely to be better educated so they can help their children which gives them an advantage.
Feinstein (2008) claimed that well educated parents, such as the middle class, are more likely to use language that challenges their children to develop their own understanding whereas the less educated parents, such as the working class, use language that only let children make simple statements. This resulted in working class children underachieving. Similarly, Bernstein (1975) talks about the different language codes among the working class and middle class, that effect achievement, which are restricted code and elaborated code. Restricted code is when it is used informally which has short sentences and basic vocabulary. This is often used by working class families. Elaborated code has more complex sentences, detailed and wide range of vocabulary. This is often used by middle class, schools, textbooks and exams. He argued that the middle-class children had an advantage when writing essays, exams, class discussions and understanding textbooks as this required the elaborated code. Middle class children could switch between both codes whereas working class children are limited to restricted code as they are not familiar with elaborated code. This could then lead working class children to have a disadvantage in education and may attain lower grades in exams. Gov (2012) shows that disadvantaged children achieved 33.8% 5 or more A* to C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and mathematics GCSEs, compared to 62.3% of all other pupils.
However, cultural deprivation can be can be avoided as the government has put up a Sure Start programmes (House of Commons, 2010) that provides support for parents and children aged 0 – 4 years old in disadvantaged areas. They help with the children’s learning skills, health and well-being, and social and emotional development. The sure start programme aims to give children the best start in life which suggests that this can improve their life chances. A criticism of Douglas (1964) on working class parents having a lack of interest of going to parents evening is that working-class parents usually have low paid jobs, so they tend to work more hours which means they do not manage to attend parent’s evenings rather than them not wanting to.
The cultural factors, such as language, parenting and school treatment, affects the life chances of children and young people. Language can be a barrier in schools for children that have moved to a different country with a different language. Kids Matter (2011) states that language is a barrier in schools because children who have moved from a foreign country may have difficulties communicating in English which can make it harder for them to socialise with other children and harder for them to read and write. This could be a disadvantage because they may not understand the exams as well as others and might find it difficult to express themselves if they know limited English. Some teachers might mistake their lack of English as lack of intelligence, which could be false, so a clever child might not be pushed to their full potential.
Different parents have diverse types of parenting styles depending on how they were brought up, their culture and their ethnicity. Archer and Francis (2007) has shown that parents of Chinese children are more interested in their child’s education and they encourage their child more than other cultures. This then leads to the child achieving higher. The statistics from department for education (2015) have shown that Indian and Chinese pupils have outperformed the white British average. Lupton (2004) says that Asian parents teaches their children to be respectful to their elder which has a similar effect towards teachers in schools as this supported the school’s behaviour policy. This creates an advantage for Asian children as they are seen as behaved students, so teachers will think they are hardworking and are more likely to do better. Whereas the working class British parents have a negative attitude towards schools and have low aspirations for their children.
Teachers shape and limit what children can achieve for example, they are responsible for differentiating work, assigning students to sets and exam tiers. Teachers treat children and young people in schools differently and there can also be stereotyping and racism. Stereotyping is when a group or a person is thought to represent a fixed idea. For example, all black children misbehave and are violent. According to Gillborn and Youdell (2000) teachers are quick to discipline African Caribbean children than others for the same behaviours. Teachers may misinterpret their behaviour, which creates conflict between the teacher and child reinforcing stereotypes. This affects African Caribbean children’s life chances as they may feel that their teachers are underestimating them as they are being labelled due to the stereotype teachers have created. This links to Rist’s (1970) findings that teachers labelled children not by their ability but on appearance and whether they were from an educated background, middle class family, or not. Teachers could label children due to their ethnicity for example, if an African Caribbean child is labelled a failure by a teacher, they are more likely to put the child into a lower tier exam, so the child will only be able to achieve a maximum of a grade C, this will make the child not be able to achieve their best of their ability. When children are labelled a failure, the child may start to believe the label to be true and this is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy therefore creating ethnic differences within schools.
However, sometimes having negative labels can have the opposite effect for example, Fuller’s (1984) findings on black girls who were labelled as low achievers. She concluded that the girls rejected their negative label, so they proved their teacher wrong by getting their school work done and getting good grades, which lead them to succeed. This shows that having a negative label can have a positive outcome if the child has the right mindset and believe in themselves rather than what teachers say.
Socially there are many ways in which children and young people’s life chances are affected. Some reasons are mental health and drugs and alcohol misuse. Mental health is our psychological, emotional and social wellbeing as it affects how we think, act and feel. Mental health affects children and young people in schools and can interrupt their day to day life. For example, someone with anxiety may find it difficult to concentrate at school due to them worrying about other things which leads them to being behind in classes. People with anxiety will also experience physical symptoms such as, difficulty breathing, sweating, increased heart rate and blurry vision. This will affect their life chances as they do not like being in unfamiliar places and social situations which gives them a disadvantage when making new friends and can lead them to being socially isolated. Green et al (2005) found that mental health affects 10% of children and young people who are 5 – 16 years old.
However, some people say that mental health issues are not increasing but rather people are more aware and accepting of mental health issues. There are many services for people suffering from mental health and schools are now educating children and young people about the different types of mental illnesses as they now have mental health and awareness and resilience training that Young Minds (2017) offer to schools. There is also Mental Illness Awareness week to educate and increase the awareness of mental illness.
Alcohol and drug misuse affects children and young people’s life chances as they can harm them mentally and physically. Drinkaware (2016) states that abusing alcohol can affect young people as the long-term effects are brain damage, cancers and raising blood pressure. The short-term effects can be disturbed sleep, memory loss and impaired judgement. This can affect their education as they might not have got good sleep, so they will not be able to concentrate in lessons. They might miss school if they are admitted to the hospital as says that Alcohol concern (2016) says that “33 children are admitted to hospital each day in England, with drink related problems.” Not being able to attend lessons means that they will be behind in subjects which can lead them to getting low marks in exams, making them not being able to attain their highest potential.
There are many types of drugs that young people may abuse such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana. They can affect children in different ways for example, cocaine can increase heart rate and decrease appetite, heroin can make them drowsy and relaxed, and marijuana can affect attention, memory and ability to learn. Drug abuse can affect young people as drugs affect how the brain processes which can mess with how you think, remember and concentrate. It will affect their health as they may become unwell due to the substance they are taking which changes the chemicals in the body. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (2017) suggests that young people who smokes marijuana daily usually get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of education. This affects the life chances of young people as they may not finish school which will be a disadvantage when they search for jobs in the future and they will not be able to achieve their highest potential.
Nevertheless, there are services that help young people with alcohol and drug abuse such as Adfam and Westminster Drug Project (WDP). Adfam (2017) have a range of services that help families and those affected to have a better life and not make the same bad decisions. WDP (2016) provides many services such as therapy and rehabilitation to help their clients change and reduce their addiction. These services will help young people who are abusing drug and alcohol improve their life chances as they will be able to regain their dependency. Their brain development will start to develop properly which means that they will be able to function well in school.
It has been shown, therefore, that economic, cultural and social factors do affect children and young people’s life chances in many ways and each factor has diverse ways in which they can be affected. The economic factor affected child and young people in a way where they lacked a certain thing such as resources, money, and norms, values, skills and knowledge which affected their life chances. Whereas, the cultural factor affected them by their ethnicity, background and how they were treated. Finally, the social factor affected children and young people emotionally and by their health. All these factors contribute to the life chances of children and young people negatively however, they can be prevented and improved which enhances their quality of life.