Some sociologists believe that childhood is a social construct. A social construct is something that is created and defined by society.
Is childhood really a social construct?
Here are 3 arguments:
The Western Child... Pilcher states that childhood is a distinct life stage, different from adulthood. This difference is emphasised by different laws, different foods, different rules, different toys etc.
Cross Cultural Differences... Benedict argues that children in non-industrial societies are treated in differenct ways- they take responsibility, they are less valued and their sexual behaviour is viewed differently.
Historical Differences... Aries argues that in the past, as soon as a child could live without it's nanny, it was part of adult society. Due to a high infant mortality rate, parents reffered to the baby as 'it', because they didn't want to get too close to it.
Some sociologists say that childhood DOES exist in different cultures and did in the past too, it's just that childhood was DIFFERENT.
Reaons for changes in childhood
1) Compulsary education... means children are dependant on parents for longer because they cannot do payed work at the same time.
2) Laws restricting children from payed work... children have gone from economic assets to economic liabilities.
3) Declining infant mortality rate... parents get emotionally attatched to their child, and have fewer children, so can afford to 'spoil' them.
4) Laws and policies that restrict children... e.g drinking age, driving age, age of consent etc. These reinforce the idea that children are different.
Children's Changing Status: The March of Progress
Over time, children's status in society has improved. Children are more valued and cared for and are educated.
Children are protected from harm.
The government spend around £64billion each year on education.
Better healthcare means more children survive.
Many leisure activities are designed for children.
Children's Changing Status: The Conflict View
Childhood is a time of oppression from more dominant, powerful groups.
Holt says that laws which restrict children from payed work, are actually oppressing them, because it makes them powerless and dependant upon others.
- The march of progress view does not account for neglect and abuse. Childline recieves 20,000 each year from abused children.
- Children's space is controlled. Road safety and 'stranger danger' means children cannot walk alone. They are forced to go to school.
- Children's time is controlled. They are told when to go to school, when to go to bed etc.
- Children's bodied are controlled. Adults tell children how to treat themselved. E.g "Don't pick your nose", and yet it's okay for adults to fuss over children and pat their heads.
- Children are oppressed due to age. This is called 'age patriarchy'.
Inequalities between children
Boys are allowed to go out on their own, whereas girls have to stay on or be watched outside. Girls do more domestic labour than boys. In lone parent families girls do 5x more than boys.
Poor mothers are more likely to have low birth weight babies. This is linked to their lack of money to afford nutritional foods. Woodroffe says that children born to manual workers 3x more likey to suffer from hyperactivity that those born to professional workers.
How is childhood changing?
Rogers says that there are 2 types of childhood: The innocent wholesome child that is angelic and joyous. This leads to the welfare view. Another child type is the wicked sinful child that should be restrained. This leads to the control view.
Lee says that adulthood is becoming more unstable so adults need to be 'looked after' by the state, leading them to appear like children. Children get to choose who they want to live with, so they making 'adult' decisions. So Lee is saying that adults are now like children and children are now like adults. (This is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard. I strongly oppose to this, btw.)
Postman says that childhood is becoming blurred. Children and adults now commit the same crimes, wear the same clothes and have the same rights. Postman says that the media has caused this because adults cannot keep children away from sex and violence on TV.