Sociology – Family Unit – The Relationship Between Parents A

Notes on childhood and parenting for AS Sociology

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Sociology Richard
Emma Rudd BMA
Sociology ­ Family Unit ­ The Relationship between Parents and Children
Changing Conceptions of Childhood and The Legal Status of Children
The Period of time that we call childhood is a Social Construction it is shaped and given a
meaning by culture and society. This is proved by the differences between children's lives
in different cultures and also time periods.
Childhood from the Past to the Present Day
In traditional cultures, the young moved directly from a lengthy infancy into working roles
within the community. Philippe Aries has argued that childhood, as a separate phase of
development did not exist in medieval times. Children were portrayed as `little adults' they
had the same style of dress as their elders and took part in the same work and play
activities as adults.
Right up to the start of the twentieth century, children as young as 7 or 8 years old were
put to work. There are many countries in the world today in which young children are
engaged in fulltime work, often in physically demanding circumstances, e.g. coal mines.
The twentieth century saw the emerge of a child centred society. This was probably the
result of improved standards of living and nutrition in the late nineteenth century, which led
to a major decline in the infant mortality rate. The increased availability and efficiency of
contraception allowed people to choose to have fewer children. Parents were able to
invest more in them in terms of love, socialisation and protection.
Legislation ­ Children and the State
Parents' rearing of children is now monitored through various pieces of legislation, such
as the 1989 Children's Act and the 1991 Child Support Act. The role of social services
and social workers is to police those families in which children are thought to be at risk.
The state also supervises the socialisation of children through compulsory education it
also takes some economic responsibility by paying child benefit and children's tax credits
to parents.
Increasingly children have become more recognised as individuals with rights. The
Children's Act 1989 allows children to have a say in which parent they live with following
a divorce. The prime concern of the state should be the child, and what children
themselves say about their experiences and needs. The Child Support Act 1991
requires absent parents to contribute to the financial cost of providing for the child and the
parent with immediate parental responsibility is required to cooperate with the Child
Support Agency to assist in this process.
Theoretical Approaches to Childhood
The Conventional Approach
Many Functionalists and New Right thinkers tend to subscribe to what has been termed
a `conventional' approach to childhood. This sees children as a vulnerable group. This
approach suggests that successful child rearing requires two parents of the opposite sex,
and that there is a `right' ay to bring up a child. Such views often blame working mothers
or single mothers and/or inadequate parents for social problems such as delinquency.
Melanie Phillips argues that the culture of parenting in the UK has broken down and the
`innocence' of childhood has been undermined by two trends. Firstly, the concept of
parenting has been distorted by liberal ideas, which have given too many rights and

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Sociology Richard
Emma Rudd BMA
powers to children. She argues that children should be socialised into a healthy respect
for parental authority, and that these children's rights have undermined this process.
Secondly she believes that the media and the peer group have become more influential
than parents.
Melanie Phillips also complains that adulthood encroaches upon the experiences of
children a great deal earlier than in the past.…read more

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Sociology Richard
Emma Rudd BMA
result of an adult's cruelty, whilst 30000 children are on child protection registers because
they are at risk of abuse from family members. The negative effects of divorce have been
documented in several surveys of teenagers. In conclusion, not all children experience the
family or their parents as positive ­ for many children and teens the family is exploitative
and dangerous.
The End of Childhood?
According to Postman childhood is coming to an end.…read more


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