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`Examine the ways in which childhood can be socially constructed.'
By SaraBeth Cartwright
Sociologists see childhood as a socially constructed, which means that it's
something created and defined by society. They argue that the position that
children occupy in society is not fixed, but differs between times, places and
It is generally accepted in our society today that childhood is a `special' time of
life, and that children are fundamentally different from adults. There is a belief that
children's lack of skills, knowledge and experience means that they need a
lengthy, protected period of nurturing and socialisation before they are ready for
adult society and the responsibilities that come with adulthood. As Jane Pilcher
(1995) notes, the most important feature of the modern idea of childhood is
separateness. Childhood is seen as a clear and a distinct life stage, and
children in our society occupy a separate status from adults. This separateness
is emphasised in many different ways, for example, there are laws which
regulate what children can or can't do.
Related to the idea of separateness of children's status is the idea of childhood
as a `golden age' of happiness and innocence. However, this innocence means
that children are seen as vulnerable and in need of protection from dangers of
the adult world and so they must be kept quarantined and separated from it. As a
result, children's lives are lived largely in the sphere of the family and education,
where adults provide for them from and protect them from the outside world.
Similarly, unlike adults, they lead lives of leisure and play and are largely
excluded from paid work.
There are many crosscultural differences in childhood. Anthropologist Ruth
Benedict argues that children from more simpler and nonindustrial societies are
generally treated differently from there modern western counterparts in many
different ways. For example, they take responsibility from a younger age.
Samantha Punches study in 2001 of children in rural Bolivia found that one
children turned the age of 5, were working within their household and also their
community, these tasks were being done without hesitation. Another example
would be Child Soldiers, where children are expected to fight for their country,
even though they aren't physically or mentally ready for such traumatic work.
There are many historical differences in how childhood was seen a social
construct. Sociologist Phillip Aries argues that the middle ages, the idea of
Childhood didn't even exist. They were not seen as having a different nature or
needs from adults. In the middle ages, childhood as a separate stage was also
short. Soon after being weaned, the child entered wider society on much of the
same terms as adults. This includes starting work from an early age to contribute
to the families income children were effectively `miniadults', as they had the
same rights, duties and skills as adults.
However, Aries says that there were elements of the modern notion of childhood
gradually beginning to emerge from the 13th century onwards. AN example of this
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This reflected from the influence of the church, which
saw children as `fragile creatures of God' in need of discipline and protection.
Now, there are many reasons for the changes in the position of children. There
are laws restricting child labour and excluding children from paid work. Children
were seen as an economic asset who could earn a wage, but now are seen as
an economic liability, as they are financially dependent on their parents.…read more