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Rhianna in Child of our time at 20

Horizon: Child of Our Time: Turning 20

Children from the ground-breaking 20 year BBC series Child of Our Time look back at growing up in the UK in the 21st Century.

About the programme

In 1999, the ground-breaking BBC series, Child of Our Time began filming a group of babies from the moment they were born. Twenty years on, these children are now adults and can reflect in their own words on growing up during a time of considerable social change. Drawing on thousands of hours of archive footage this Horizon special focuses on three of the children - Eve, Jamie and Rhianna - to explore what would shape their lives in the new millennium.

To find out more or to watch on BBC iPlayer, once available, go to the BBC programme page .

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:

Child of our time at 20 - Triplets
The very first sprouting leaves a of a plant pushing upwards through the ground

Child of Our Time: Updates from the participants

Watch our short video updates from the young people who featured in Child of Our Time, and find out what they are up to now.

Alice, Mabel and Phoebe


19-year-old triplets Alice, Mabel and Phoebe have now all ventured into the world of work. Alice is working as a Dental Nurse, Mabel a Shop Supervisor and Phoebe is working at a research facility.

Alex and Ivo


Identical twins Alex and Ivo are still as close as ever and are both at Glasgow University, where Alex is studying Immunology and Ivo is studying Maths & Physics.



After going into care at the age of 5, Charlie is now living independently. She dedicates her time to caring for her 1 year old son Elijah.


Ethan is living at home with his mum Kerri in Northern Ireland and is currently at college studying Computer Science.


Eve is now a student midwife based in Keele and enjoying living with her new friends whilst she fulfils her dreams of working with women and babies.


Het has recently achieved her long held dream and won a place to study Physics at Imperial College London.


Helena has just started her second year studying Drama and Performance Practise at Cheltenham Uni and is busy exploring options for her future career.


Jamie is currently working as sous chef and recently received the exciting news that he and his girlfriend are expecting a baby in 2020.


Lottie has recently fulfilled her ambition of moving to London and secured a job working as an Office Assistant at a pensions company.


Matt is in his first year studying Sports Management at Northumbria University and balances his studies with working at an events company in the holidays.


Megan has just started her second year at Bath University, studying Economics and still enjoys helping with the family business during the holidays.


Nathan has recently moved out of the family home to study Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone Art School in Dundee – hoping to forge the beginnings of his career as an artist.


Rebecca is currently studying Geography at the University of Nottingham, and spent her summer working as a camp counsellor at a Jewish summer camp in America.


Psychology student Rhianna is currently enjoying her second year at Newcastle University and hopes to pursue a career as a clinician.


Taliesin is currently studying Politics and International Relations at Essex, which included a year studying abroad at Leiden University in the Netherlands.


Will has recently made the move to North Carolina where he is a student athlete, pursuing his ambition of being a world class tennis player.

A young woman lies in bed, exhausted and fed up

Young people and stress, vulnerability and resilience

Is risk and adversity damaging to young people? Not necessarily, writes John Oates...

Young girl with her hands over her eyes

The emotional well-being of children and young people depends on them experiencing the right sorts of nurturing environments.  It also depends on them not being exposed to excessive risks to their development; but children and young people seem to differ in how resilient they are if they do experience challenges. Risk and resilience are complex and much debated concepts throughout the social sciences but have become increasingly central to studying children’s and adolescent’s lives over the past 20 years, as researchers try to understand why different risk factors have different impacts on different individuals. Using a variety of methods and coming from various disciplinary and philosophical backgrounds these researchers have asked questions such as ‘Why do some children and young people cope with adversity while others do not?’ or: ‘Why are some children and young people overwhelmed by difficulties which others overcome relatively easily?’. Developmental psychologists have been at the forefront of these studies but have drawn on, and worked in close collaboration with, social workers, public health officials, sociologists, anthropologists, geneticists and neuroscientists. There are, however, no standard definitions of resilience, or agreement on how it can be measured or whether it is an outcome in itself or a process.

Twins eyes

Siblings, and even identical twins, can be different in temperament and despite similar upbringings react in opposing ways. Psychologists have used various models to explain why different children and young people react differently to the same risks. One, the diathesis-stress model, is based on the idea that each individual has their own specific stress threshold, above which there are negative effects, either on immediate behaviour or on longer-term outcomes. ‘Diathesis’, from the Greek word for ‘disposition’, refers to the assumption that through genetic variation, effects on the foetus through pregnancy or early experiences, each individual comes to have their unique ‘stress threshold’.

Other models, such as the differential sensitivity model suggests that individuals differ in their responses to environmental stress, not in terms of thresholds, as in the diathesis-stress model, but instead in their profiles of response to different levels of stress. This model is based more on a ‘sensitive versus robust’ model of differences, such that ‘sensitive’ individuals may respond more negatively to high levels of stress than ‘robust’ individuals, but may also respond more positively to less stressful, more supportive environments than ‘robust’ individuals.

A stressed young girl

Not all forms of risk or adversity are necessarily harmful. Some degree of adversity and stress is an inevitable part of human life and learning to cope with them is an important part of the developmental process. It could be said that children and young people who have never suffered adversity are disadvantaged when they become adults, because they have not developed coping mechanisms and may react inappropriately when confronted with situations they have no resources to deal with. Some psychologists argue that stress is not always harmful to children and young people; it can be tolerable or even beneficial and several experiences, such as starting  changing secondary schools or having a new sibling as a teenager, can become positive learning experiences, as long as the young person has the necessary support to deal with them. In line with Donald Winnicott’s concept of ‘good-enough’ parenting, which argues that children benefit from some delays or failures in fully meeting their needs and wishes, there is evidence that exposure to mild levels of stress that a child or young person can cope with, ‘inoculates’ against the effects of stress later in the life span. Three types of stress can be distinguished.

  • beneficial stress, as mentioned above;
  • tolerable stress i.e. severe but still usually short-lived stress such as a death in the close family, or parental divorce. Although this often poses higher risks to children and young people, with the right support from caring adults, they can adapt and cope without it having long term negative impacts or interfering with their development;
  • toxic stress: when adverse experiences faced by a child or young person are chronic, repetitive, uncontrollable, and/or experienced without having access to support from caring adults. Such stress poses long term and very harmful risks to children in that it can interfere with their physical and emotional development

Meet the OU experts

John Oates
Professor John OatesProfessor of Developmental PsychologyVIEW FULL PROFILE
John Oates
Professor John OatesProfessor of Developmental Psychology

John has led the production of three Open University developmental psychology modules, including ‘Psychology of Childhood and Youth’. He was a member of the core team for English Early Support for families with children and young people with special needs and disabilities, and author and editor for e-learning in the Healthy Child Programme for NHS Health Education, focusing on mental health and developmental support.

John's research focus is on perinatal mental health and attachment and he has developed a screening tool widely used in health services in UK and other countries. He is the author of Scottish risk assessment regulations for child licensing in performances and is a regular script reviewer and safeguarding adviser for broadcasts. He has experience working on a variety of broadcast productions and was an OU consultant on the ‘Child of Our Time’ series. 

Sheila Curran, The OU
Sheila CurranSenior Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies - School of Education, Childhood, Youth & SportVIEW FULL PROFILE
Sheila Curran, The OU
Sheila CurranSenior Lecturer in Childhood and Youth Studies - School of Education, Childhood, Youth & Sport

Sheila is a member of The Open University’s Children’s Research Centre (CRC) and has research interests in children and young people’s rights, voice and participation, and in the practices and identities of professionals who work with young people. Sheila led on development of the OU’s courses and qualifications in Working with Young People and is currently has lead responsibility for two OU courses: ‘Youth: Policy in Practice’ and ‘Young lives, parenting and families’. She is also working on the production of a new OU course: ‘Exploring childhood and youth’. 

Sheila has a professional background in teaching and in youth and community work. She has a wide range of experience of working with children and young people, including in local authority youth services, for Save the Children and other voluntary organisations, and as an advisory teacher for Gypsy and Traveller children.

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