HideShow resource information

Childhood - Aries

  • Aries (1962): the concept of childhood in Western European society has only existed in the last 300 years.  Before this, in medieval society, a child took on the role of an adult as soon as physically able.
  • The law made no distinction between adults and children and children were seen as 'mini adults'.
  • Aries used paintings in these periods to prove children were 'mini adults' e.g. they dressed the same, worked together etc.
  • However, the paintings may not be fully reliable: Pollack says Aries work looks weak because paintings are his main evidence.
  • With industrialisation social attitudes changed and people began to value children as needing specialised care and nuturing. The importance of the child reinforced the importance of the role of the housewife. 
  • This 'cult of childhood', first developed in the middle classes and over time has become part of working class values.
1 of 8

Childhood - Laws

  • Changes in laws are one of the reasons for the changes in the position of children.
  • Children are subject to laws that restrict their sexual behaviour, their access to alcohol and tobacco, and the amount of paid work they can perform. 
  • 1880 - compulsary schooling.
  • Children are offered additional protection by the Children Act 1989, which allows them to be taken away incapable or unsuitable parents if the state judges so.
  • They are given price reductions on goods and service.
  • However organisations such as the NSPCC aruge children need greater protection. Cawson et al (2000) wrote a report that stated 16% of children under 16 have experienced sexual abuse and 25% physical violence.
2 of 8

Childhood - Social Construct

  • Sociologists say childhood is not only a bioligcal stage of development but a social construct as well.
  • The idea of how children differ from adults in their values, behaviour and attitudes isn't the same everywhere in the world and it hasn't been the same for all times. It's not universal, different societies, with different cultures and values, can view childhood in different ways.
  • There is cross-cultural differences as different societies take responsibility at different ages and different values are placed on children showing obedience to adults.
  • Jane Pilcher (1995): highlights seperateness of childhood from other life phases, children have different rights and duties from adults, and are regulated and protected from special laws.
3 of 8

Childhood - Progress?

  • Functionalists see the postion of children as a sign of progress.
  • Shorter: the 'march of progress' argument.:
  • Society has a functional need for better educated citizens and lower infant mortality rates.
  • So school leaving age has gone up and child protection has improved.
  • That means the current position of children is the result of positive progression from th e past.
  • Conflict view disputes this: there is inequalities among children and between adults and children. There is neglect and abuse and control over children's bodies (e.g. adults control how kids dress, walk, sit).
  • Diana Gittins (1985): 'age patriarchy', adults maintain authority over kids, achieve this using enforced dependency through protection from paid employment and legal controls.
  • Hockey and James (1993): childhood was a stage most wished to escape from.
4 of 8

Childhood - Future: Postman

  • Neil Postman (1994): childhood is disppearing at a dazzling rate.
  • In the middle ages most couldn't read and speech was needed to access mainstream society.
  • Children became seperate when literacy began to improve in the 19th century. Adults were the ones who knew about money, sex and other matters which are now 'taboo'. 
  • TV now blurs distinction between childhood and adulthood because information is easier to access (adults can control what kids watch though).
  • He argues children grow up very quickly and experience things only open to adults in the past, our definitions of childhood and adulthood will need to be changed soon.
5 of 8

Childhood - Future: Lee

  • Nick Lee (2005): disagress with Postman.
  • He agrees childhood as become an ambiguous area, but argues parents have financial control and children can only spend as much as their parents allow.
  • The paradox of childhood is one of dependence and independence at the same time.
6 of 8

Childhood - Future: Palmer

  • Sue Palmer: 'there are alarming signs of a toxic childhood'.
  • Alarming symptoms of unhappiness in modern childhood, she points to the increase in ADHD, substance abuse and self harm.
  • Toxic childhood is a result of: unhealthy food, lack of play in natural surroundings, poor sleep patterns, little time to interact with family, decline in emotional security, media and social class.
  • Her research indicates that children are being deprived of traditional childhood and family life. She says every year children become more distractible, self-obsessed and impulsive. They are less able to learn to enjoy life and thrive socially.
7 of 8


  • Childhood varies according to class, gender and ethnicity.
  • Children living in poverty suffer poorer health, a lack of basic necessities, lower achievement in education, poorer life chances and higher indidences of neglect and abuse.
  • Statham and Owens (2007): black and dual-hertiage children are more likely to end up in care than white or asian children.
  • Julie Brannen (1994): asian families are much stricter with their daughters than their sons.
  • Hillman (1993): parents generally give boys more freedom than girls.
8 of 8


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Families and households resources »