AQA Sociology AS: Childhood

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  •  The nature of childhood, and changes in the status of children in the family and society
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  • Created by: Chloe
  • Created on: 23-12-11 12:01

Childhood as a Social Construct

- Sociologists say that childhood is socially constructed: created and defined by society.

Modern Western Notion of Childhood: Child-Centred Society

  • Childhood is a special time of life
  • Belief that children lack skills, knowledge and experience.
  • They need protection, nurturing & socialisation
  • Jane Pilcher (1995): Most important feature of childhood is seperateness.
  • Age laws in society
  • Childhood has been refered to as the 'golden age'.
  • However, children are seen as vulnerable.
  • Stephen Wagg (1992): However, view that childhood as a seperate age-status is not found in all societies - not universal. "Childhood is socially constructed... no single universal childhood.." This means that different cultures interpret childhood differently.
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Childhood as a Social Construct (2)

Cross Cultural Differences in ChildhoodRuth Benedict (1934) 

  • Ruth Benedict (1934) argues that children in simpler, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently.
  • Take responsibility at a younger age.
  • Less value on children showing obedience to adult authority.
  • Sexual behaviour often viewed differently.
  • Much less of a dividing line between the behaviour expected of children and of adults.
  • Childhood is not a fixed thing.
  • Differs from culture to culture.
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Childhood as a Social Construct (3)

Historical Differences in Childhood

  • Childhood in an 'invention'
  • Aries (1960): from the 10th-13th centuries, childhood didn't exist.
  • In middle ages, childhood was very short.
  • Children were viewed as 'mini-adults'
  • Aries uses art as evidence.
  • Shorter (1975): high death rates encouraged indiffernece and neglect towards infants.
  • Accoring to Aries childhood changed from 13th century onwards because of 1) Schools only for the young, 2) Clothing differences, 3) Handbooks on childrearing becoming available.
  • Aries: The 20th Century as 'The Century of the Child'.


  • Linda Pollock (1983): argues that its more correct to say that in Middle Ages, society simply had a different notion of childhood than today.

HOWEVER: Aries work is important because it shows that childhood is socially constructed.

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Childhood as a Social Construct (4)

Reasons for Changes in the Position of Children

  • 19th and 20th Centuries...
  • Laws restricting child labour - children were economically dependent.
  • Compulsory Schooling in 1880 - increased dependency.
  • Child protection e.g. Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act 1889 & Children Act of 1989 - services available to children.
  • Idea of childrens rights. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 - basic rights e.g. healthcare and education.
  • Declining family size - adults spend more on fewer children.
  • Age restricting laws.
  • Childrens health and development theories.

- Most sociologists agree that industrialisation was the main cause for the change along with lower infant mortality rates.

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Has the Position of Children Improved?

The March of Progress View

  • Position of children was been steadily improving.
  • Aries (1960) and Shorter (1975) hold this view: Children today are more valued, better cared for, protected and educated, enjoy better health and have more rights.
  • Estimated £64 billion spent on education in 2007/08
  • Babies have much better chance of survival - healthcare & higher standards of living.
  • Time a child reachs 20st birthday - cost to parents is £186,000 (2007)
  • Chlidren are no longer 'seen and not heard'.
  • Media input to children - special programs.
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Has the Position of Children Improved?

The Conflict View

  • Conflict sociologists e.g. marxists & feminists 
  • Society is based on conflict between different social groups.
  • Domination and subordination between groups where dominant oppresses the other.
  • Argue that 'March of Progress' view is false & ignores important inequalities
  • Inequalities in children: Access to opportunities and facing risks
  • Inequalities between adults and children: Children today experience greater control, oppression and dependency.

- Nationalities, cultures, gender, social class, ethnic differences where children may not share same status or experiences.

- Adults use power as a new form of oppression and control, making them powerless.

- Abuse of children by adults. ChildLine - 20,000 calls a year reporting abuse.

- 'Stranger danger' means that children have to be driven to school - cannot walk on their own anymore.

- Adults control a childs daily routines. What they wear, how they sit, walk & run. Adults restrict children. Diana Gittins (1998) - AGE PATRIARCHY - adult domination.

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The Future of Childhood

- Are children becoming more powerful?

- Is distinction between childhood & adulthood breaking down?

The Disappearance of Childhood

  • Neil Postman (1994) - childhood is 'disappearing at a dazzling speed'.
  • Children committing adult crimes, watching same TV.
  • Children can read & write at an early stage - allowing to enter adult world sooner.
  • Printed words creates information hierarchy - adults who can read, children who cannot. Adults have power to keep knowledge about sex, money, violence, illness & death a secret. This is now less.
  • Television blurs - destroy the information hierarchy.
  • Postman's study shows how different types of communication technology can influence the way childhood is constructed.

Opie (1993): childhood is not disappearing. Her studies have shown strong evidence of continued existence of a separate children's culture. 

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The Future of Childhood (2)

The Globalisation of Western Childhood

  • Western notions of childhood are being globalised. 
  • View that childhood is not disappearing, its spreading throughout the world

Reconstruction of Childhood?

  • 'Toxic childhood' - negative trends of obesity, self-harm, drug & alcohol abuse, violence, early sexual experience & teen pregnancies.
  • However, not all are effected by negative trends.

- Ageing population - more older people and less younger.

- Difficult to predict future of childhood because childhood is socially constructed.

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