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Childhood as a social construct

Created and defined by society. 
 The modern Western notion of childhood
Children are regarded as physically, psychologically immature.

They lack skills, knowledge + experience so they need a protected period of nurture +socialisation.

Pilcher - seperateness from adults. Clear distinct life stage. Emphasised by

  • laws/entertainment/dress/food/toys/books.

Childhood is a 'Golden Age' of happiness +innocence.
innocence makes children vulnerable- so must be quarantined from adult life!

Wag > childhood is socially constructed/ there is no universal childhood
Therefore childhood isnt natural!
DIfferent cultures construct or define the process 

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Cross cultural differences in childhood

Benedict > children in non-industrial societies are treated differently from modern west.

  • Children take responsibility at a young age.
    Punch > in bolivia children work at 5 years old. if they think they can do a job parents do not object.
  • Less value of child showing obedience to parent
  • Childrens sexual behaviour viewed differently.
    Malinowski >> adults take attitude of 'tolerance and amused interest' 
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Historical differences in childhood

Aries> in the middle ages 'idea of childhood didnt exist'
Children were seen as adults after physical dependancy.
Began work at an early age/ mini adults > same rights/duties/skills.

Evidence was taken from Art in this period.
Children appear without characteristics of childhood.
Dressing, playing, working together with adults

Edward Shorter > high death rates encourage indifference towards infants.
Eg parents used to name babies after dead siblings.> or refer to baby as it.

Aries > moder elements to childhood emerged from 13th Century onwards
Schools specialised for young/ Distinction between adult + children clothes
Creating separation.By 18th century, books on childbearing were availible. This was a sign of growing child centredness. Aries says these changes form modern 'cult of childhood'. 20th century is 'century of child'
Critisisms > Pollack > more correct to say middle age society had different notion of childhood than today.
Aries work is good as it shows childhood being a social construct. how status of child has occured. Although much of his work was taken from paintings which may be unreliable.  

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Reasons for changes in position of children.

Lawss restricting child labour- now economic liability/rely on parents. 
Introduction of compulsory schooling to age of 18.  
Child oritection and welfare legislation> cruelty to children act.
Protection from child abuse.

Declining family saze, lower infant mortality rate > encourage parents to make greater provisions. - financial + emotional investment in fewer children.

Laws and policies to protect children eg sex age, smoking age

Most sociologists agree process of industrialisation underlies many of the changes.
>> modern industry needs educated workforce
>> welfare system lowers infanct mortality rates indirectly.
Industrialisation is key factor in modern idea of childhood.  

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Has the position of children improved?

March of progress view.- position of children in western societies is improving.
Lloyd De Mause - history of childhood is a nightmare we are only now awakening.

March of progress > children are more valued, better cared for, protected, educated, have more rights, better health etc.

*Government spent estimated £64 Billion in 2007/8
*infant mortality rate was 154 per 1000 births in 1900, now 5 per 1000.

Smaller family sizes. 5.7 births per woman in 1800 to 1.84 in 2006 meaning they can spend more.
By 21st birthday average £186000 spent.
In victorian times, children were 'seen not heard'- now they are a focal point. 

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conflict view to childhood improvement

Marxists- faminists 
Society is based on conflict of class+ gender.
Critisise march of progress > children are still unprotected +badly cared for.
Children experience greater control, oppression + dependancy.

Hillman > shows Gender Differences
Boys more likely to be allowed out after dark.
Bonke > girls more likely to do more domestic labour.

Ethnic differences
Brannens > 15-16year olds. Asian parents are more strict towards daughters.
Neglect was 43% of cases of children on protection register.

Class inequalities
poor mothers likely to have low birth rate> which can delay physical+ interllectual development.

Childline recieves over 20,000 calls a year.- slowing dark side to the family.
Tighter control + surveylance.  

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Age patriarchy

Gittins> Describes inequalities of adults + children. 
Adult dominance >> child dependancy
Patriarchy oppresses children as well as women.
Children therefore Act up - "im nearly 9"/ Swearing/smoking/drinking
+Acting down is way to resist adult control.  

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The future of childhood

Neil Postman - The disappearance of childhood. 
Children are gaining the same rights as adults

  • Wearing adult clothing
  • committing adult crime eg murder
  • television + media culture. 

In middle ages people were illiterate + speech was only thing needed to be in adult world.
Enabling children to enter adult world at young age.
Printed word creates hierarchy of information- giving adults power to keep things away from children - sex, money, violence, illness, death. 
Television blurs information hierarchy- tv doesnt require special skill to access it.  

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Globalisation of western childhood

Child liberationists say modern western childhood is oppressive - due to adult authority. 

Instead of being dissappeared, childhood from the west is being globalised.

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The reconstruction of childhood

Sue Palmer > Toxic Childhood
Technological +cultural changes have damaged physical, emotional and interlectual development. - caused by junk food, computer games, long hours worked by parents. 

Margo + Dixon - Report that UK youth are near top international tables for obesity, self harm, drug and alcohol abuse etc.
Unicef survey in 2007 rank uk 21/25.

Childhood disappears due to falling birth + death rates
Producing aging population.  

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