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Dossier thématique

Does the children’s room really belong to me? A discussion about independence of a child in the private space of a children’s room.

In : Renonciat Annie (ed.). Proceedings from the international conference The child’s room as a cultural microcosm. Space, Pedagogy and Consumption  at the National museum of Education–CNDP/CANOPÉ, Rouen, 7–10 apr. 2013.
Ilze Dinka


A child’s independence in the children’s room has always been an issue about power and control in upbringing topics between the child and his/her parents. Nowadays the consumption of material items and media and the opportunities they offer created conditions for a child to desire independence and individual search for meaning, however parents of 9-11 years old children get more involved in the issues about the surrounding aesthetic environment and things, as well as the length and contents of the used media. Things and media and their meaning in various children’s rooms are different and they actually depend on the child’s experience and upbringing patterns in the family. This report features modern children’s rooms, the expressions of a child’s independence in a children’s room; and these points are analysed and explained by aspects such as individuality, independence, privacy and parenting style in the family. There is a contradiction about the understanding and perception of expressions of independence between the child and his/her parents.
The socio-material approach is applied in this report. The research examines five case studies, respectively, five interviews with 9-11 years old children who have their own children’s room, five interviews with their parents and photographs of these children’s room that express and outline those meanings that cannot be disclosed by interviews. The case study analysis provides an answer to the following question: whether a children’s room really belongs to him/her in case the child cannot choose and independently use the objects in the children’s room in accordance with his/her perception, meanings and sense?

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Research problem and context

1Every child is born in different social, dimensional, economic and cultural conditions. As there is no two identical children, also child’s rooms are different. Child’s room in a household is affected by child’s place in society and family’s socioeconomic condition. As a result of virtualisation of the society children spend the biggest part of their free time in the child’s room (Baacke 1999, p. 251; Livingstone 2007; Buckingham 2011, p. 261). Children and parents regard the external world as unsecure environment (Beck 1992, p. 266; Giddens 1991, p. 257; Valentine 2004, p. 69-82) and children point out that it is “not interesting”, they have nothing to do outside (Livingstone & Bodvill 2001, p.179-200). Approximately, children from the age of 9 are constantly in the child’s room – in average they spend more than 50% of their wakeful time there (research results obtained from 11 countries in 2001 (Livingstone & Bodvill 2001). It is related to their wish to separate from parents and other members of the family by trying out self-dependency, individuality and privacy in the room, as well as the fact that the media are located in the child’s room. Research shows that the more media there are in the child’s room, the more time they spend there. On the one hand, children as social beings have the opportunity to be more self-dependent; on the other hand, due to the unsecure environment outside home and as a result of the influence of the media and the institutionalisation of childhood there are less opportunities for children to be autonomous in the world of grown-ups.

2Child’s room functionality and its transformations reflects child’s actions within a room and outside it, expressions of self-dependency and a child’s and parents viewpoints about material and social environment. On one hand – when a child is born, an environment is provided for his development, which is structured by his parents, on the other hand – children, in dependence from upbringing style in family and child’s self-dependence expressions, has a chance to use, explore, manipulate and play with material and social environment by they own sense.

3Child’s self-dependency in a room always has been an issue about power and control in upbringing questions between a child and parents. Parenting style in a family affects child’s self-dependency expressions in a child’s room. Whereas, media and their consumption in child’s rooms have created conditions for spending a child’s free time in his room, which shows a researches about usage of child’s media (Livingstone, 1998; Bovill & Livingstone, 2001).

Theoretical perspectives of the study

4In this paper modern child’s rooms and child’s self-dependency expressions in them are characterized: individuality, independence and privacy (Livingstone 1998 ; Lincoln 2012, p. 254). Independence and self-dependency determine the child’s privacy in the room where he/she can express as individuality. Within the context of the research individuality is perceived as the child’s ability to be himself/herself that can manifest in the choice of hobbies and spending of free time. Self-dependency is characterised as an opportunity to use the room according to one’s views and understanding: to introduce things, to arrange them and to get rid of them.

5To explain upbringing in a family and its coherence with child’s and parents comprehension about self-dependency in child’s room, D.Baumrind’s theory about parenting styles was used (Baumrind 1971). The research outlines three parenting styles: the authoritative, the authoritarian and the permissive parenting style. Various dimensions of the parenting styles were analysed in the interviews with children and parents: control/demands (parents’ demands towards the child in respect of supervision, discipline and control) and responsiveness (activities that support the child’s individuality, are coordinated and encouraging for expressions of the child’s self-dependency). The authoritative parenting style is revealed as high demands put forth by parents and a high level of responsibility. Such parenting is child-oriented, the child’s individuality and his/her expressions of independence are accepted. The authoritarian parenting style manifests as high demands, but a low level of responsibility. Such parents control their children and set rules. The child’s self-dependency is expressed by obeying parents’ requirements, not by revealing their self-dependency themselves. The permissive parenting style is characterised by low requirements to the child, but a high level of responsibility. Parents accept the child’s self-dependency, but they do not set boundaries and rules, therefore the child has difficulties to control his/her behaviour.

6Sociomaterial approach was used in this research (Fenwick & Edwards & Sawchuk 2011, p. 215), where material things and their meanings in child’s and parents point of view and social environment in child’s room were researched. Contradiction exists between child’s and parents comprehension of expression of freedom, what characterises coherence between parenting style in a family and child’s possibilities to use a room by his own sense and perception.

Methodology of the study

7As the borders of this research study of families are settled where children have their own rooms, which are not shared with other family members, it was assumed that brothers/sisters presence in one room affects child’s expression of independance. In this paper five cases are analysed – five partly-structured interviews with 9-11 years old, different gender children (three girls and two boys), five partly structured interviews with mothers and photos of children’s rooms, what shows coherence, which is not given by interviews. In order to avoid exceeding ethical rules, the interviews were coded. Five cases were determined. The ages of children were selected according to the stage of their cognitive development (concrete operational stage, Piažē 2002, p. 318) and spending more of their free time in their rooms. Photos of child’s rooms were taken by the author of research and it was done with permission from parents and children. In all families in this research, children have both parents. In one family, child is the only one, in three cases – elder one and in one family the middle one. Interviews were audiotaped and identically transcribed. Questions were structured by criteria of self-dependence – individuality, independence and privacy, and were created by the following thematic blocs :

  • Child’s room necessity in household, functions and meaning in child’s and parents’ point of view

  • Child’s interests, hobbies, spending of free time

  • Usage of material things and creation of social environment in child’s room

  • Children and parents comprehension about independence in child’s room

  • Privacy in child’s room – child’s and parents perspective

8Separate questions about upbringing in family in partly structured interviews were not included, but children and parents answer on previously mentioned thematic blocs allowed to make a conclusion about upbringing style and its connections with child’s self-dependence expressions in a room. Case study gave an answer to research question – if the child cannot choose and use material objects in child’s room independently and doesn’t participate in creation of social environment by his coherence of sense and meanings, does the child’s room is really his?

The analysis of case study

9The analysis of interviews and photographs reveals functions of the child’s room, the social and material environment of a child nowadays, expressions of a child’s self-dependence from the point of view of children and parents. Expressions of self-dependence of children and logical correlations of parenting were disclosed during the analysis of interviews providing a basis for the classification of expressions of children’s self-dependence depending on the specific parenting style that dominates in the family. It should be noted that in all cases mothers are the ones that spend more time in children’s rooms (this is related to the fact that mothers physically spend more time with children in comparison with fathers), and in most cases they are the ones who discuss the issues of self-dependence with children. Fathers are enrolled in the issues of the child’s room only in cases when mother cannot cope with children and a “stricter” word is required.

10The functionality of the child’s room refers to a place where a child sleeps, spends most of his/her free time (plays, uses the media that are available in the child’s room either stationary or outside it – iPad) and a place where social interaction takes place: games or communication with other members of the family and friends.

11The research revealed two families with a dominating authoritative parenting style, two families with a permissive parenting style and one family with features of an authoritarian parenting style. The further analysis is concentrated on correlations between expressions of children’s self-dependence and the parenting style.

“I have rules, but it is my space”. Balanced parenting

12The physical area of children’s rooms is big enough (18 and 20 square metres) although in both cases both children and parents (case 1 and case 2) point out that a bigger space would be preferable for physical activities as the environment of children’s things occupies a large part of the room. The functional setting of the room (furniture) does not testify about gender differences, but it can be observed in the environment of things. It is obvious in toys typical to stereotypes of genders: the girl from case 1 has Monster High dolls that occupy the largest territory of the child’s room, while the boy from case 2 has his favourite action figures. In these cases the media do not differentiate the gender as in case 1 they are not present in the child’s room, but in case 2 the media take up most of free time, namely, Xbox, iMac computer, TV and DVD. In both cases there is no denial of the media; one could rather talk about a critical approach in the media upbringing where parents together with children talk about the contents of media and the rules of their use. The iMac computer was bought to promote the child’s talent in making films that obviously demonstrates the enrolment of parents in the development of the child’s individuality :

Child from case 2 : “– After the camp my father presented it to me. He told me that there would be a surprise but he did not tell what exactly.”

Mother from case 2: “– It is a thing that he enjoys. We are looking for a hobby group where he can advance his skills as he is already making films in i-movie, but he has mastered it and it seems too easy for him.”

13In both cases parents accept the individuality of the child. Children are enrolled in hobby groups and sports activities (in one case – dancing; in the other case – ice hockey) that the children have chosen themselves. Hobbies are obviously seen in the environment of children’s rooms: posters with the favourite KHL ice hockey players, photographs of children in the hobby groups, paintings with ballet dancers, sports accessories, books, games and DVDs. Parents emphasise the individuality of the child and point out that in case the child will not enjoy this activity any more then the child will be able to choose another hobby that interests him/her at the moment. One could observe features showing that the self-expression of the child is accepted. Parents wished to enrol children in extracurricular activities so that he/she “has less free time”. This aspect is related to the mentioned institutionalisation of childhood and parents’ fear about the insecure environment outside home. Parents are the ones that determine the limits of space and time and control how children spend their free time.

14The child’s will and parents’ opinions about material things and the change of objects determined expressions of the child’s aspect of independence in the child’s room. Parents mostly participate in arranging the child’s wardrobe and sorting of clothes by leaving all other matters of order in the room to the children. By analysing the interviews one can conclude that parents’ views about the child’s independence are related to their opinion what a child’s room is, what the child’s room means for his/her child and what relations exist between parents and the child :

Mother from case 2 : “– A child’s room is more or less something that the child wants. Everything is permitted from the beginning. It refers to his posters and to himself.”

Mother from case 1: “– It is her territory; it is the place where she can live! She can rearrange, change things, put things that she likes and where she likes them to be placed.”

15The child has the opportunity to rearrange his/her things in the room, to change posters and to introduce new items. An important key word is the notion “agreement” that was mentioned several times during interviews with children and parents in cases 1 and 2. Both children and parents emphasise openness, negotiations, offers, agreements where, on the one hand, there are rules and, on the other hand, these rules have been made by children and parents, thus they are child-oriented and based on the wishes of parents as well as their children :

Child from case 1: “– In general, my parents suggested that perhaps I would like to go dancing? I do not have to ask for permission in case I want to change things in my room.”

Mother from case 1: “– We have agreed that her things are placed in her room. We offered dancing and we gladly accepted it.”

Mother from case 2: “– He has his own order. We do not focus on ice hockey as the only thing. I cannot be sure that my son will play ice hockey and therefore in my imagination I am already building a house in Miami.“

16The child’s privacy is connected with the possibility to close and open the door when he/she wishes to do so. By analysing the child’s possibility to close the door a conclusion could be made that the door is always closed when the child is angry or sad. In a family where the authoritarian parenting style dominates these cases are always respected. It is important that not only parents respect the child’s privacy, but children also respect parents’ request to close the door in cases when friends have arrived or silence is needed.

17Expressions of the child’s self-dependency in all cases are respected; they are based upon agreements and respectful relations. In these cases both the child and parents perceive the child’s room as a territory that is formed by taking into account the child’s self-dependency in it and also as space that belongs to the child.

“If you want to clean my room, do it yourself!” The permissive parenting style

18The permissive parenting style was observed in two of out all cases (cases 3 and 4) where parents are involved in parenting but they bring forth few requirements. On the one hand, they accept the child’s individuality, independence and privacy, but, on the other hand, they do not set consequent rules and this creates difficulties for the child to control his/her behaviour. As a result of the analysis of interviews it can be concluded that consequent requirements are not resembled in expressions of the child’s independence: the child has rules that he/she can violate.

19Expressions of individuality in the child’s room are accepted in the arrangement and location of things, however, parents’ expressions “my choice”, “my ideal child’s room” indicate that parents are enrolled or would like to participate in the arrangement of the child’s room :

Mother from case 3: “– It is not my choice that it is colourful. If I had the opportunity, half of these items would not be here.”

Mother from case 4: “– I could regard the child’s room as my dream room.”

20Children can put in things and rearrange them according to their understanding and perception. In these cases the area of the child’s rooms are fourteen and twelve square metres, thus one can conclude that the rooms are not suitable for physical activities, and children and parents from cases 3 and 4 point this out several times. Both mothers characterise the rooms as too small and not suitable for the child :

Mother from case 3: “– Please remove another wall! This is not the size that would correspond to my dream child’s room.”

Mother from case 4: “– This child’s room is not complete, it is too small for him, and he is a big boy already.”

21Child 3 has posters on the room’s walls with the favourite movie stars (Bella & Edward from the movie “Twilight”), images of Monster High dolls and a list of self-made rules. In the room of child 4 the only features of individuality are seen in the material environment that represents the inventory of his hobbies: ice hockey gates, pucks, sticks, and balls. It is explained by the fact that the family lives in a rented house and the area of the room fits only a bed, a wardrobe and a small table. In such cases parents are the ones who have chosen hobbies for their children, namely, ballet dancing and ice hockey, although they point out that that the child’s wish to change hobbies would be respected:

Child from case 4: “– I didn’t enjoy track and field athletics, but father told to join in. I had my first training sessions and everyone knew how to skate on ice more or less. I was crying and asked if I could come after one year.”

Mother from case 4: “– We do not want to exaggerate as we do not know how long he will enjoy playing ice hockey.”

22On the one hand, the child has rules; on the other hand, he/she can disregard these rules, if he/she wants, as he/she knows that mother will do anyway the things that she requires. It is one of the most obvious features that is expressed in the permissive parenting style, where parents are involved in the child’s upbringing but at the same time they are not consequent in their behaviour. It is expressed as setting of rules for the child, but in case he/she does not fulfil them (and the child knows that he/she can disregard them as there will be no consequences), then parents tidy up the room themselves :

Child from case 3: “– When I take out books, I leave them like that as I am lazy to put them back in order. They do not allow me to make order in the wardrobe; mother says that there is no need as there will be no order in a minute. Finally, she puts everything in place and says that I will not get ipad.”

Child from case 4: “– If I do not tidy up the bed, father says that I have not tidied up again and leaves me alone.”

23In the case of the permissive parenting style, parents respect privacy in the child’s room (parents respect themselves), while brothers and sisters are those who violate the boundaries. In these cases parents do not interfere as they believe that the elder child from case 4 and the child from case 3 have to define their privacy in the child’s room themselves and this becomes the factor that always triggers conflicts. Mother from case 4 says that the child’s brother is still small and the biggest brother should compromise if brother wants to enter his room. In case 3, the wardrobe stands in the child’s room and it is a perfect reason for younger sister to enter any time, even in cases when the door is closed and she wants to be alone in the child’s room. The child’s conflicts are always related with cases when she does not want to tidy up things with which she has played herself :

Child from case 3: “– I have fights with my sister. She never tidies up after herself in my room. She plays with Lego but she never puts the pieces back.”

Mother from case 3: “Sister comes into the room, but they always quarrel about the fact when she can enter and when she cannot. Sometimes she violates the request and says that her wardrobe is in that room!”

24In a family where the permissive parenting style dominates, parents accept the child’s individuality but there is a tendency to express one’s opinion about the material environment in the child’s room. In these cases independence is expressed as undefined boundaries and initially there is no agreement between parents and the child about rules and compliance with them. The child cannot understand how to use his/her independence and in these cases it manifests as not tidying up and not putting things in order even in cases when parents request it. On the one hand, privacy is respected; on the other hand, there are cases when the child has to compromise with younger siblings. The child’s self-dependency in families that exercise the permissive upbringing style is the balance between expressions of self-dependency in families that have an authoritative upbringing style and in families that have an authoritarian upbringing style.

“ I will close the door of the child’s room whenever I want”. The authoritarian parenting style

25Features of the authoritarian upbringing style and hence expressions of the child’s self-dependency were revealed in one of the cases (case 5). Irrespective to the fact that a dialogue exists between the child and mother, the material arrangement of the child’s room mostly corresponds to mother’s wishes. The only thing that is put in according to the child’s wishes is TV, but the contents and time of watching TV is controlled :

Child from case 5: “– Mother bought things that are appropriate for my room. She would not allow me to put posters on the walls. She decides herself what things suit a particular place. I had two flowerpots on the window-sill but I have no idea why mother took them away, most probably she did not like them.”

Mother from Case 5: “– I show her what would be more correct and better. I do not allow using glues and paints in the room. I am trying to create a sense of taste, you would not put a poster of Britney Spears on a nice wall.”

26In the arrangement of material environment in the child’s room, one can clearly identify parents’control and governing views about what is beautiful and correct. The child’s expressed wish to put a poster on the wall or to place a thing according to his/her will in the child’s room is not taken into account. The child’s room is twenty square metres, it is a light and spacious room. Walls are empty, nothing is attached to them, and bookshelves are decorated with items bought by parents, the child’s books and some toys. There is a wardrobe, a writing-table, a bed and “a relaxation corner” with a small table with two chairs. The visual arrangement features no products of pop culture.

27The suppression of the child’s individuality is obviously expressed in the choice of hobbies. Mother has chosen ballet classes that represent her own unrealised dreams. It is planned to install a ballet rod in the child’s room that clearly demonstrates parents’ wish to get involved in the activity chosen by them :

Child from case 5: “– Parents have chosen the activity for me. The ballet.”

Mother from case 5: “– It is my unrealised dream from my childhood, but my mother did not allow me to dance ballet. Children themselves usually do not want anything...”

28The child’s independence expresses similarly to the case of the permissive parenting style where the child has strict rules and he/she attempts to disregard them. In this case non-compliance with the rules does not result with a situation when mother tidies up the room, but mother closes the door and does not open them until the child has not finished tidying up :

Mother from case 5: “As soon as there are emotional disorders, everything is taken away, I close the door as I cannot look at the mess. The door will be closed until the room is messy.”

Child from case 5: “– The door is closed when I am angry with my mom.”

29Thus the door of the child’s room is frequently closed by parents, not children. The child’s room becomes a place of punishment and this was not noticed in any of the previous cases.

30In cases of the authoritarian parenting style the child’s room is a place that is mostly structured by parents. Parents are the ones that set the boundaries, the arrangement of the material environment, the use of things and the child’s hobbies. In such family the child’s room is not a place for the child.


31Child’s room in nowadays is a space, where child, through individuality, independence and privacy, can search for sense and meaning by his own grasp. Search for sense and meaning is connected with discussions between children and parents about upbringing questions in family. This research reveals that fathers basically involve in child’s self-dependence expressions only when the mother is lacking upbringing methods.

32Most important discussions about child’s self-dependence between children and parents in a child’s room is connected with tidying up. The parenting style in the family determines the child’s opportunities to use the child’s room independently. In cases where parenting style is authoritative and in child’s upbringing process can be seen individuality and independence, respect and acknowledgment, and so as, agreement between children and parents, a child can use his room by his own sense and understanding. He can change the material arrangement, implement new things, determine which and when he can stay in his private space and can be independent in his beliefs. One of the cases marked a child’s room as a space structured by parents, which the child cannot use on his own. He spends less time there, because child’s room is structured by parents, not by himself.

33Child’s own structured space shows that child’s room belongs to him. It is a private room where the child feels like himself/herself. Material things and social interactions, which are chosen and used by him, increase his self-esteem, a feeling “– I can do that!”. Child’s room constructed by himself is an important rule for a construction of a child’s identity.

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Ilze Dinka, « Does the children’s room really belong to me? A discussion about independence of a child in the private space of a children’s room. »Strenæ [En ligne], 7 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2014, consulté le 01 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Ilze Dinka

The University of Latvia, Faculty of Education, Psychology and Art.

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