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Between Distrust, Cautiousness and Politeness : Parents Teaching Children How to Behave in the Public Spaces of Paris and Milan

Clément Rivière

Research framework : As of yet, a limited amount of research has analysed the role played by parents in regulating children’s access to urban public space.

Objectives : This article aims to describe the process of children’s city socialization. Its objective is to enrich the interactionist approach to public behaviour by highlighting its socio-genesis. The particular focus of this study is how norms of self-presentation, ways of behaving and perceptions of danger, are taught.

Methodology : The analysis relies on a doctoral dissertation focusing on parental supervision of children’s mobility and their activities in public spaces. The data mainly consists of in-depth interviews (n =78) conducted with parents living in two socially mixed areas of Paris (France) and Milan (Italy).

Results : Parents appear to provide ambivalent instruction regarding the transmission of interaction and traffic rules as they are often accompanied by a certain disrespect for these same rules by other urbanites. The instructions transmitted to children are partly differentiated depending on the gender of the child as the presence girls in urban public space appears to be more tightly controlled than that of boys.

Conclusions : The article helps articulate the “interaction order” (Goffman, 1983) of daily parental educational practices. It sheds light on the impact of transmitting gendered norms on children’s perceptions and practices of urban space.

Contribution : The description of the main contents of children’s city socialization processes makes an empirical contribution to the knowledge of children’s discovery of contemporary urban societies.