Childhood as a Social Construct

  • Childhood is socially constructed as definitions vary between societies, within societies and historically. 
  • Cross-cultural differences in childhood:
    • Benedict - children in simpler, non-idustrial societies are treated differently as they have more responsibility at home & work, less obedience is placed on obedience to adult authority, and children's sexual behaviour is viewed differently.
  • Childhood in the West:
    • childhood is seen as a special, innocent time of life.
    • children are seen as fundamentally different from adults so need a protected period of nurturing & socialisation.
    • Pilcher - childhood is a separate, distinct stage of life.
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Historical Differences in Childhood

  • Aries - in medieval Europe, the idea of childhood didn't exist.
    • Children were not seen as having a different 'nature' from adults.
    • Work began from an early age.
    • Children were 'mini-adults' with the same rights, duties & skills as adults.
    • Shorter - parental attitudes towards children were very different .
  • The modern notion of childhood began to emerge from the 13th century.
    • Schools began to specialise only in the education of the young.
    • The church increasingly saw children as fragile 'creatures of God' needing protection.
    • There was growing distinction between children's & adult's clothing etc.
  • Why has the position of children changed?
    • Lower infant mortality rates & smaller families.
    • Specialist knowledge about children's health.
    • Laws banning child labour.
    • Compulsory schooling.
    • Child protection & welfare laws.
    • The idea of children's rights.
    • Laws about social behaviour.
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The Future of Childhood

  • Postman - childhood is now disappearing as the television culture is replacing the print culture,
    • Print culture - children lacked literacy skills to access information so adults could 'protect' them from certain topics.
    • Television culture - information is available to adults & children so the boundary between them is broken down & adult authority weakened.
  • Opie - separate children's culture continues to exist in the form of games, songs etc.
  • Jenks - modern society created childhood to prepare the individual to become a productive future adult.
  • In postmodernity adults' relationships become more unstable so their relationship with their children becomes more important & they become more fearful of their safety, leading to more regulation.
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Has the Position of Children Improved?

  • March of Progress view:
    • Children's position has been steadily improving as family & society is child-centered.
    • Infant mortality rate has decreased (154 in 1900 to 4 now).
    • Higher standards of living & smaller family sizes.
  • Toxic Childhood:
    • Palmer - rapid technological & cultural changes are damaging children's development so they are deprived of a genuine childhood.
  • Conflict view:
    • Third World children have different life chances from those in the West due to gender, ehtnic and class inequalities.
  • Age Patriarchy:
    • Gittens - adult domination keeps children subordinate e.g control over time, space & bodies which can lead to abuse - resistance is shown by acting older.
  • The 'new sociology of childhood':
    • Seeing childhood as a social construct of industrialisation means children can be seen as passive objects.
    • Active agents - see children as playing an important role in creating their own childhoods.
    • Multiple childhoods - seeks to explore the many diverse childhoods that exist in society by taking a child's viewpoint.
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