Sociology Revision Notes: Childhood.

Complete revision notes from the orange AQA AS sociology text book.

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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 of them.
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 areas.
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
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 community.
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 infancy.
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 13th
Century onwards:
o Schools: (which adults had previously also attended) came to specialise
exclusively in the education of the young. This reflected the influence of the

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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 18th
Century ­ a sign of increasingly child-centric values in the family, at least in the
middle classes.…read more

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There are inequalities AMONG CHILDREN in terms of opportunities and risks
as many are still unprotected and poorly cared for.
o There are inequalities between CHILDREN AND ADULTS and they are greater
than ever before: children today are being more greatly controlled, oppressed
and are therefore increasingly dependent upon adults.
Inequalities Between Children:
Not all children have the same status and experience: some boys attend Eton
College, some a state comprehensive.…read more

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Therefore, they control the speed at which a child `grows
up'. They decide if a child is old enough nor not, and this contrasts with
Holmes' findings among Samoans ­ `too young' is never given as a reason
not to let a child perform a task.…read more

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Childhood was not a concept; there was no division between a child's
world and an adult's.
o Childhood emerged with mass literacy: there was suddenly a division between
the adults who could read and the children who could not. This meant that
adults could keep knowledge of sex, death, illness, and other `adult things'
secret from the children. These things faded into mystery and childhood
became associated with innocence and ignorance from the 19th Century
onwards.…read more

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Young people's behaviour has also raised concerns ­ Margo and Dixon (2006)
reported that the UK's youth are at or near to the top of the international league
tables for obesity, self-harm, substance abuse, under-age sexual activity and teenage
Such observations induce an anxiety that childhood as an innocent and protected
life-stage is under threat. This is hard to prove, however, for two reasons:
Not universal: not all children experience the same childhood.…read more


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