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Topic 2 CHILDHOOD:
Childhood as a Social Construct:
Pilcher (1995) notes that the most important feature of modern childhood is `separateness'
from adulthood it is seen as a clear and distinct LIFE STAGE.
Children in our society have a different status to the adults and have different expectations
This is emphasised in several ways, such as:
o Laws which regulate what children can and can't do.
o Difference in dress, for young children especially.
o Through goods and services especially for children such as food, toys, books and play
Related is the idea of childhood as being a `golden age' of innocence and happiness.
This innocence means that children are considered to be vulnerable and in need or protection.
Children need to be `shielded' from the hardships of the adult world.
As a result of this, children's lives are lived largely within the confines of the family and
education where they are provided for and protected by the adults.
They lead lives of leisure and play unlike adults.
Wagg (1992): `Childhood is socially constructed. It is, in other words, what members of
particular societies, at particular times and in particular places, say it is. There is no single
universal childhood, experienced by all. So, childhood isn't `natural' and should be distinguished
from mere biological immunity.'
All humans go through the same stages of development; different cultures construct and
define this process differently.
In the Western world, children are defined as weak, vulnerable and unable to care for
themselves, however other cultures do not take this view.
A good way to see these differences is to take a comparative approach, for instance:
o Punch's (2001) study of childhood in RURAL BOLIVIA found that at around the age of
five, children were expected to take on work responsibilities in the home and
o Firth (1970) found that among the TIKOPIA of the WESTERN PACIFIC doing as an
adult tells you is a concession of respect from the child and not a right to be expected
by the adult.
o Holmes' (1974) study of SAMOAN people found that `too young' is not an acceptable
excuse for not allowing a child to carry out a particular task: `Whether it be the
handling of dangerous tools or the carrying of extremely heavy loads, if a child thinks
he can handle the activity, parents do not object' .
Ariès (1960) : `the idea of childhood did not exist'. Children were not seen as having a different
nature or needs to the adults after they had passed the stage of physical dependence during
During the Middle Ages, children were essentially `mini-adults', with the same rules and
punishments applying to both.
Ariès states that elements of the modern childhood began to emerge from the 13 th
o Schools : (which adults had previously also attended) came to specialise exclusively in
the education of the young. This reflected the influence of the church, which
increasingly saw children as `fragile creatures of God' in need of protection and
discipline from worldly evils.
o Clothing : Children and adults began to dress differently. By the 17th Century, an
upper-class boy would wear something `reserved for his own age group' which would set
him apart from the adults.
o Parenting Books : childrearing handbooks were widely available by the 18 th
sign of increasingly child-centric values in the family, at least in the middle classes.
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Ariès claims that these ^ developments have caused the ` cult of childhood'and that we have
moved form a time that did not find anything notable in childhood to one where we are
obsessed with it.
He describes the 20th
Century as `the century of childhood'.
Pollock (1983) argues that previously there was just a different idea of what childhood was,
not that it did not exist.
Ariès' work is valuable though as it provides evidence for the theory that childhood is a social
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There are also ETHNIC differences: Brannen's (1994) study of 15-16 year olds showed Asian
parents as much more likely to be strict to their daughters: honour killings.
Bhatti (1999) found that izzat (family honour) could be restrictive of girl's behaviour
Inequalities Between Children and Adults:
MOP writers believe that adults use the power they have over children for their
protection, as in the passing of child labour laws.…read more
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Hockey and James conclude that this proves that children wish to escape childhood.
Critics of the child liberationalists argue that some control needs to be exercised over
children's lives because they are unable to make certain decisions for themselves.
It is also argued that children are not as helpless as claimed, as they have legal rights to be
protected and consulted.
The Future of Childhood:
The Disappearance of Childhood:
Postman (1994) comments that childhood is ` disappearing at a dazzling speed'.…read more
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Some writers are concerned that children are experiencing what Palmer (2006) dubbed as the
`toxic childhood '.
Advances in technology and cultural changes in the last 25 years have stunted children's
emotional, physical and intellectual development .
These changes include: junk food, computer games, intensive marketing, the long hours worked
by parents and the emphasis on testing in education.…read more