“Too young” to visit?

It wasn’t so long ago that The News reported that one in five children in the United Kingdom had never visited a museum. There was the corresponding statistic of parents saying they “did not think their child would be interested.” God forbid they ask them to find out.

Now, museums can be tricky beasts when it comes to children and teenagers. In the same report that produced the statistic quoted above, it was found that 18% of parents felt that their children were “too young for culture.” As someone who works with children in museum, I can honestly say that museums do their best to make themselves accessible to everyone now matter how young.

In fact, if you ask people like Neil MacGregor, they will tell you about their ‘Museum Moment’ – that amazing and profound experience that they remember long into adulthood. In Neil’s case, it was –fittingly – stroking the Rosetta Stone.

Now, let us move onto teenagers. My friend, Mar, has done work with teenagers in museums and had found that some of them feel alienated by museums, that they felt ‘too thick’ or ‘too poor’ to be regular museum visitors. (You can read Mar’s article on teens in museums here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2011/dec/19/museums-teenagers-engagement )

It’s such a shame, and so is this:

“Salford Museums bars 13-year-old girls because they are ‘too young’ to visit on their own” ran the headline.

The two girls were told they needed an adult with them if they wanted to have a look around for “safety reasons.” Yes, mysterious safety reasons. One wonders if the staff were referring to the safety of the girls or the safety of the collection. Consider this; the girls did not know Salford well and the museum’s refusal forced them to just wander around.

The girls’ mother has said: “This is a good example of young people in Salford being alienated by adults. In Salford they seem to see them as a threat and danger. I’ve worked with a lot of Salford young people and they’ve been fabulous.”

The Salford Museum’s policy states that under 16s must be accompanied by an adult, and as the girls’ mother is a lecturer in Leisure and Recreation you would think she could have checked, especially as there is no uniform policy on this in the museum world.

Stephen Hassall, Salford Community Leisure chief executive, said it had an exemplary record of working with children. He said: “Our child protection policy means we ask that children under 16 are accompanied by an adult for their own safety. This isn’t unusual and similar policies operate across Greater Manchester.”

On Twitter, people have spoken out against the museum’s action, but have also lamented about the negative exposure: @PaulFraserWebb said “It is such a shame @SalfordMuseum are getting such bad press. They are one of the most community focused museums I ever worked with.”

How can Salford Museum bounce back from this? Maybe setting up a Youth Panel could be a way of counteracting the negative publicity. By inviting teens and young people to actively get involved would continue the community work the museum does and could help them review their policy on unaccompanied teenagers.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Carolyn Downs says:

    As the academic in question I am really well aware of the good work the Salford museum does with schools in the city. However, the notice stating no unaccompanied under 16s was not on the door until after the publicity. The girls were originally going directly to see my older daughter but really wanted to see the Victorian Street and the paintings. I therefore said they could spend an hour there while I went to a meeting and then meet me for lunch before they were collected by my older daughter. As Lancashire museums allow under 16s unaccompanied we did not expect there to be a museum where people would be prevented from entering because of their age. What I am now doing is trying to set up a discussion with Salford Youth Council, academics in the leisure, recreation and heritage research group that I am a member of, representative of the local council and others to think about what this policy says about wider social attitudes towards young people. For what was not reported was what the museum staff member had to say about teenagers when I called to check the rules. Had I just been told it was health and safety I would have raised my eyebrows and not gone to the local paper (I did not realise the story would go viral). If you would like to join in the debate let me know and I will give you details of the event as soon as it is finalised.

    1. Hello Carolyn,
      Thanks for getting in contact and filling in some more of the details for us. It’s great that something productive is being done to help move the situation, and the policy, forward. What did the staff member you spoke to have to say about teenagers when you called? I found the quote about ‘health and safety’ from the Manchester Evening News website here:


      I found out about the story through the Twitter feed for the organisation Kids in Museums, have you come into contact with them? They do fantastic work getting kids of all ages (from toddlers to teens) into museums.

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