There is an increasingly wide consensus of opinion in studies of childhood that children are competent social actors and their social relationships and cultures are worthy of study in their own right (Hutchby & Moran-Ellis, 1998; James & Prout, 1990). Children are seen as having the ability to manipulate material and cultural resources to participate actively and independently in meaningful social actions within given interactional contexts (Hutchby & Moran-Ellis, 1998). Therefore, many studies on children’s social competence have paid attention to peer interactions, viewing them as the ideal environment for children to construct their own culture. Fewer empirical works have focused on the demonstration of children as competent agents in their interaction with adults.
This study analyses one aspect of adult-child interactions in Vietnamese contexts: situations in which children commit offences when they interact with other children and/or adults. Offences occur in conversation when the breakdown of behavioural rules causes annoyance or displeasure to related parties. When offences occur, social order is challenged and need to be reorganised. The topic of how offences made by children are managed is also understudied, especially in the Vietnamese context. The management of children’s offences in this study is approached from sequential contexts. Using the data collected from YouTube videos, this study adopts Conversation Analysis (CA) as the main methodology.
Offending situations provide children with an opportunity to act independently as competent agents. In this study, I argue that children’s social competence is displayed in either scenario where they use or avoid remedial work to redress the offences. Doing remedial work signals that children acknowledge they have violated certain rules in interactions. From the acknowledgement of offences, children are able to use remedial strategies properly to deal with them. They can self-initiate remedial work or comply with remedial instructions from adults. In both cases, children show their agency in acting independently as social actors. They resolve their offences on the basis of understanding asymmetrical rights between adults and them. They steer the process of managing offences in a favourable direction for them. In cases in which children avoid remedial work, my suggestion is that children approach the incidents in question from a different point of view to adults. They simply do not treat the incidents as offences and make efforts to protect their viewpoints. On that basis, they develop strategies of resistance, including: continuing their actions; refusing to initiate remedial work; and making arguments to deny the offences.
While offending situations provides a context in which children’s competence can be evaluated, they are also the environment for adults to exercise their rights as well as socialise children with social rules. This study also focuses on the management of children’s offences from adults’ perspectives. In terms of evaluating children’s competence, there are two main scenarios employed by adults to frame and manage children’s offences. The first scenario is that adults acknowledge that children are competent social actors at managing offences. They build up their arguments based on the children’s understandings. They guide children to perform remedial actions. In contrast to the recognition of children’s competence, the second scenario is that adults deny children’s social competence. This suggests that adults do not treat children as competent social actors. They exercise their power and rights to impose their viewpoints and rules on children. Children’s competence is underestimated. This scenario is accomplished through some strategies, such as punishing, threatening, shaming. Those two ways are not separated but intertwined in each moment of talk, suggesting that adults sometimes assume and sometimes deny the competence of the child in each moment of talk (cf. Mackay, 1991). When offences are terminated, adults demonstrate that offences and the denial of children’s competence are temporary. They normalise interpersonal relationships with children and restore children’s status as social actors who have their own world and own values that must be recognised.
The management of children’s offences also unveils some features of the hierarchical organisation of Vietnamese society (cf. Luong V.H., 1990) with principles, such as “Kính trên nhường dưới (respect superiors, yield to inferiors) or “Yêu cho roi cho vọt” (Spare the rod, spoil the child). Those principles impact on the process of identifying and dealing with offences in different ways.