School of Sociology and Social Policy

Timescapes: An ESRC Qualitative Longitudinal Initiative

Siblings and Friends: The Changing Nature of Children's Lateral Relationships

Siblings and Friends header image

Project Description

What is the significance of sisters and brothers, and friends, in the lives of children and young people? Do such relationships change over time?

This project tracked the lives of fifty children from mid-childhood to young adulthood to help answer these questions. It provided a valuable qualitative longitudinal dataset that documents the meanings, experiences and flows of children's prescribed (sibling) and chosen (friendship) relationships.

Drawing on samples of children from three previous studies, the project explored how such relationships connect to young people's sense of self as their individual and family biographies unfold.

Methods for data collection

We collected waves of data from around fifty children and young people that were born between 1989 and 1996, from a range of family, ethnic and class backgrounds, and geographical locations across Britain. They were interviewed in 2003/5, 2007 and 2009.

The project has sought to address a number of research questions.

  1. What makes children and young people feel connected to, or separated from, siblings and friends? Do age, gender, race and class have any bearing on these relationships?
  2. Do young people view themselves as a unique entity or do they get their sense of self through membership of a group? How does this differ between different social backgrounds?
  3. What particular ethical considerations arise in the design and conduct of long-term research with young people living in different circumstances?
  4. What are the specific issues surrounding communication with the participants, informed consent, appropriate methods of data collection, and researcher involvement over a long period of time?

Archive material

Materials from the project are of interest to a wide range of professionals and policymakers, such as children and youth-centred, and family support services; education, career development and mentoring; and health and social care. 

We also undertook public engagement activities in collaboration with BBC Memoryshare, the V&A Museum of Childhood, and developed a short YouTube video to disseminate some of the findings from the research.

Reports and Publications

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