Position of children

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  • Has the position of children improved?
    • Childhood is socially constructed and varies between times, places and culture. There are important differences between childhood in western societies today as compared to both present-day Third world countries + European societies in the past.
      • For example; in the middle ages, child labour was a basic fact of life for almost all children, while schooling was available only to the wealthy.
    • The march of progress view
      • These differences raise the question of whether the changes in the status of childhood that was looked at earlier represent an improvement
        • The march of progress view argues that, over the past few centuries, the position of children in western societies has been steadily improving and today is better than it ever has been. This view paints a dark picture of the past.
          • As Lloyd De Mause (1974) puts it: 'the history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of childcare, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorised and sexually abused.'
          • Writers such as Aries and Shorter hold hold a 'march of progress' view.
            • They argue that today's children are more valued, better cared for, protected and educated, enjoy better health and have more rights than those of previous generations.
              • For example; children today are protected from harm and exploitation by laws against child abuse and child labour, while an array of professionals and specialists caters for their educational, psychological and medical needs.
                • The government spends huge sums of there education - an estimated £64 billion in 2007/8.
                • Better healthcare and higher standards of living also mean that babies have a much better chance of survival now than a century ago.
                  • In 1900, the infant mortality rate was 154 per 1000 births; today, it is 5 per 1000.
              • Higher living standards and smaller family sizes (down from 5.7 births per woman in the 1860's to 1.84 in 2006) also means that parents can afford to provide for children's needs properly.
                • According to one estimate, by the time a child reaches their 21st birthday, they will have cost their parents £186,000 (Liverpool  Victoria, 2007)
              • March of progress Sociologists argue that the family has become child-centred. Children are no longer to be 'seen and not heard', as they were in Victorian times.
                • Instead, they are now the focal point of the family, consulted on many decisions as never before. Parents invest a great deal in their children emotionally as well as financially, and often have high aspirations for them to have a better life and greater opportunities than themselves have had.
                  • Furthermore, it is not just the family that is now child-centred; so is society as a whole. For example; much media output and many leisure activities are designed specifically for children.
                    • According to one estimate, by the time a child reaches their 21st birthday, they will have cost their parents £186,000 (Liverpool  Victoria, 2007)
    • The conflict View
      • Conflict sociologists such as Marxists and Feminists dispute the March of progress view.
        • They argue that society is based on a conflict between different social groups such as social classes or genders. In this conflict, some groups have more power, status or wealth than others.
        • Conflict sociologists argue that the 'march of progress' view of modern childhood is based on a false and idealised image that ignores important inequalities. They criticise the march of progress view on two groups:
          • There are inequalities among children in terms of the opportunities and risks they face: many today remain unprotected and badly cared for.
          • The inequalities between children and adults are greater than ever: children today experience greater control, oppression and dependency, not greater care and protection.


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