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  • Created on: 01-02-19 12:32

Modern Western Childhood

children are viewed as:

  • physically and psychologically immature 
  • incompetent to run their own lives 
  • needing lengthy, protected period of nurturing and socialising

Pilcher - childhood is seen as a clear distinct stage, separate from adults

Wagg - childhood is socially constructed by the society, time and place. there is no universal childhood and childhood 'isn't natural'

separateness can be shown by: 

  • differences in laws
  • differences in clothing
  • differences in entertainment 
  • differences in food

to ensure children are protected, due to their vulnerability, children are mainly in family or educational places, away from the outside world so adults can protect and provide for them.

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Cultural Differences in Childhood

Punch (2001) - Bolivian rural areas, children were expected to take work responsibilities in the home and community by age of 5.

Holmes (1974) - Samoan village, a child being 'too young' was never an excuse for not carrying out any tasks.

Firth (1970) - Tikopian Islanders, less value is placed on showing obedience to adukt authority, the islanders had the attitude that doing as your told by a grown-up is at the discretion of the child and is not expected.

Malinowski (1957) - Trobriand Islanders, adults took an attitude of 'tolerance and amused interest towards childrens sexual exploitations and activities

Benedict - in many non-industrial cultures there are less dividing lines between children and adults expected behavior.

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Childhood in the past

Historian Ariès (1960) - in the middle ages, the idea of childhood did not exist, children were not seen as having different 'nature' or needs to an adult (passed the age of infancy). 

- > he backed this up with the evidence that paintings from this period show children bearing no other characteristics to adults 

-> laws often made no distinction between children and adults and children suffered the same severe punishments as adults

Shorter (1975) - high infant mortality rate encouraged indifference and neglect, it was not uncommon for parents to give the name of an infant the namer of a recently dead sibling or it, and for people to forget how many children they had

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the modern cult of childhood

Aries noted:

  • Schools (which previously adults attended)  specialise purely in the education of the young, the idea came from the influence of the church as they saw children as 'fragile creatures of God' in need of discipline and protection
  • a growing distinction between clothing
  • by 18th century handbooks on child-bearing became available - growing child-centrednss

He argued that we moved from a society where childhood was nothing special, to a society obsessed with chldhood.

the 20th centuryu is 'the century of the child'

Pullock (1983) - it is more correct to say that in the Middle Ages, society simply had a different notion of childhood from today

however Aries' work is valuble as it shows that childhood is scially constructed and the perspectives have changed over time

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Reasons for changes in position of children

  • laws excluding children from paid work - children are noe economic liabilities
  • introduction of comulsory schooling
  • 1889 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act & 1989 Children Act made welfare of the child a fundamental principle, undrpinning work of agencies like social services
  • growth of idea of children's rights - Children Act defines parents responsibility & the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child lays down basic rights such as, healthcare, education, protection from abuse and right to participate in decsions that affect them
  • declining family size & lower infant mortality rates
  • children's development became subject of medical knowledge
  • industrialistation - needs educated work force
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The Disappearance of Childhood

Postman - childhood is 'disappearing at a dazzling speed'

the rise and fall of print culture and it replacement by television culture - the barrier between adults being literate and children not meant parents could hide things from children, however, children now have access to anything by tv

in the middle-ages most people were iliterate and so children were able to enter a society from an early age as speech was the only skill needed

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Information hierachy

Adults had the power to keep knowledge secret from children and so childhood became associated with innocence and ignorance

tv blurs distinction by destroying the information heirachy, the ignorance dissappeared

there is also a disappearance of adulthood as tastes and styles are becoming indistinguishable

however there is things in place to keep the barrier up:

-> watershed

-> children's channels

-> parental controls

Opie - childhood isn't disappearing - research shows there is still separate children's culture           - valuble study as shows different types of communication technology influence how childhood is constructed but over emphasises impact of television

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Childhood in postmodernity


  • childhood is not disappearing just changing
  • modern society is concerened with 'futurity' and therefore childhood became a preparation to become a productive adult
  • as society is changing to a post modern society, relationships are becoming unstable, people now go into marriages considring them not to last forever and the child becomes more important but increases surveilance as they feel the need to protect them more
  • therefore he doesn't agree w Postman
  • however evidence for jenks is limited as it is an assumption
  • the evidence that children are more important than partners comes from small unrepresentative samples
  • guilty of over generalising
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The march of progress view

over the past few centuries, the position of children in western societies is steadily improving and is better than it has ever been

Lloyd De Mause (1974) - ' the further back in history one goes, the lower the level of childcare, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorised and sexually abused.'

Aries & Shorter - children have become more valued, better cared for, protected and educated, enjoy better health and have more rights than those of previous generations

for example, children are protected from harm and exploitation from laws,and the government spends huge sums on their education

the infant mortality rate in 1900 was 154 per 1000, yet today its 4

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5.7 births per woman in 1860s, yet 1.83 in 2014, this means parents can afford to provide for children's needs properly. According to one estimate by the time a child reaches the age of 21, they will have cost their parents over £227,000

March of Progress sociologists argue children are no longer 'seen and not heard' and are now a focal point in the family, consulted on many decisions. parents invest a great deal financially and emotionally

society is also chld-centred as there is much media output and leisure output designed sspecifically for children.

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Toxic childhood

the idea of toxix childhood was described by Palmer

  • she argues that rapid technological and cultural changes in the past 25 years have damaged children's physical, emotional and intellectual development.
  • the changes include: junk food, computer games, intensive marketing to children (resulting in pester power), the long hours worked by parents and the growing emphasis on testing in education

other concerns have been made refering to young people's health and behaviour.  and the UK have above average rates in international league tables for:

  • obesity 
  • self-harm
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • violence
  • early sexual experience 
  • teenage pregnancies

a UNICEF survey ranked the UK 16th out of 29 for childrens wellbeing in 2013

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The conflict view

conflict sociologists include Marxists and Feminists, who believe society is based on conflicts. 

Conflict sociologists argue that the MOP view of modern childhood is based on a false and idealised image that ignores important inequalities.

they criticise the MOP view on two grounds:

  • there are inequalities among children in terms of opportunities and risks they may face
  • inequalities between children and adults are greater than ever .
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inequalities children face

Among children

  • children of different nationalities will experience different childhoods and life chances - 90% of the worlds low birth weight babies are in developing countries
  • Hillman (1993) - boys are allowed to do more than girls - cycle on roads, use buses and go out after dark
  • Bonke (1999) - girls do more domestic labour
  • Brannen (1994) - Asian parents are more likely to be strict on daughters than any others - Bhatti backed this up, found that family honour is a restriction
  • Class inequalities - 1. poor mothers more likely to have low birth weight babies, which links to delayed physical and intellectual development. 2. children of unskilled manual workers are over 3 times more likely to suffer hyperactivity 3. kids born into poor families are more likely to die in infancy/childhood, suffer longstanding illness, be shorter, fall behind in school, and placed on child protection register

Between children and adults

Firestone and Holt (1974) - 'protection' from paid work is a form of inequality for children as they are forcibly segregating them and making them more dependent and powerless.

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neglect and abuse

in 2013, 43,000 children were subject to child protection plans as they were deemed to be at significant risk, most often from their parents. 

childline recieves over 20,000 calls a year from children saying they have been sexually or physically abused 

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Controll over children

Space - Shops do not allow school children, children cannot play in some areas, increasing surveilance over public spaces. Stranger danger has led to more children being driven to school- in 1971 86% of primary school kids could travel home alone, dropping to 25% in 2010.This contrasts with developing countries, Katz (2004) - rural Sudanese children could roam freely for Kilometeres outside of their village.

Time - children's daily routines are controlled, when they get up, go to school, go out, come home, have food, watch tv, go to sleep. the rate at which kids 'grow up' is controlled by adults as they define what is too old or too young for children. 

Bodies - what they wear, hairstyles, piercings. also what they do to their bodies, for example **** their thumb

Resources - Labour laws and compulsory schooling exclude them from earning much money, child benefit goes to parent not the child, pocket money depends on behaviour and there are restrictions on what they spend it on.

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Age patriarchy

Humphreys and Thiara (2002) - 25% of the women in their study left their partner fearing for them and their kids lives

children use strategies to resist the oppression of childhood:

  • Hockey and James (1993) - 'acting up' - acting like adults, smoking, swearing, drinking, under age sexual activity. children also exagerate their age 'i'm nearly 9'
  • 'acting down' - popular strategy for resisting adult control - 'baby talk' or insisting to be carried.

Critics argue that some adult controll is justified as kids cant make rational decisions and so are unable to safeguard their interests themselves

children are also not as powerless as the Child liberationalists claim.

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