Historic differences in childhood

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  • Historical differences in childhood
    • The position of children differs over time as well as between societies.
    • Many sociologists and historians argue that childhood as we understand it today is a relatively recent "invention."
    • Philippe Aries (1960): argues that in the middle ages (from about the 10th to 13th century) "the idea of childhood didn't exist."
      • Children were not seen as having a different "nature" or needs from adults
      • Soon after being weaned, the child entered wider society on much of the same terms as an adult
        • Example: children often faced the same severe punishments as those meted out to adults.
      • Evidence: works of art from this period where children would appear without "any of the characterstics of childhood: they have simply been depicted on a smaller scale." The paintings show children and adults dressed in the same clothing and working and playing togethre.
    • Edward Shorter (1975): argues that high death rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants
    • Elements of the modern notion of childhood gradually began to emerge from 13th century onwards:
      • Schools were specialised purely for the education of the young
        • This reflected the influence of the church, which increasingly saw children as fragile "creatures of God," in need to discipline and protect from worldly evils.
      • There was a growing distinction between children's and adult's clothing.
        • By the 17th century, an upper-class boy would be dressed in "an outfit reserved for his own age and group, which set him apart from adults."


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