Families and Households - Childhood

Childhood in Modern society - 1/4

Wagg: ‘childhood is socially constructed. It is, in other words, what members of particular societies, at particular times and in particular places, say it is. There is no single universal childhood, experienced by all. So childhood isn’t natural and should be distinguished from mere biological maturity.’ 

Physical development of children is similar but upbringing is culturally determined. Benedict argues that children in non-industrial societies are generally treated differently from children in the industrialised west: they take responsibility at an early age, less value is placed on obedience to adult authority, children’s sexual behaviour is viewed differently; also young people in other parts of the world may have different experiences to children in western societies, e.g child soldiers

Ariés studied paintings and drawings and concluded that in medieval times childhood did not exist - once children were physically capable of performing work, they were expected to help out. Sociologists agree the process of industrialisation caused many changes for childhood - e.g modern industry needs educated workers, requiring compulsory schooling for the young. The higher standards of living and better welfare provision lowered infant mortality rates.

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Childhood in Modern society - 2/4

Children as consumers/the impact of the media: adverts are aimed at children, companies aim to surround children with products, affects education, physical growth, morals/spiritual growth, causes obesity, adverse effects on mental health, Modernity saw a shift from images of children as mischievous and selfish in need of discipline to good and in need of guidance, western society is a ‘childcentred society’, a ’golden age’ for children - a time of innocence and happiness while they are vulnerable -  there is no harsh physical violence, instead there are sanctions such as grounding, and media teaches how to raise children

Changes since the Middle Ages: children have rights, have a childhood, don’t have to work, have the right to free education, cannot be abused; however in the modern western world, Pilcher argues childhood is a distinct clear stage of life, children are different from adults, to be protected — separate from the adult world, excluded from the world of responsibility — they occupy their own spheres of education and family life, key centres of socialisation 

The ‘March of Progress’ View: the position of children in western societies has steadily improved and today is better than ever; Ariés and Shorter argue that today’s children are more valued, better cared for, protected and educated, enjoy better health and have more rights than those of previous generations

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Childhood in Modern society - 3/4

Conflict View:

  • march of progress view is disputed - there are inequalities amongst children - 90% of the worlds low birth-weight babies are born in the Third World;
  • similarly, there are ethnic difference: Brannen’s (1994) study of 15-16 year olds found Asian parents were more likely to be strict towards their daughters
  • (Feminism: there are gender differences between children, e.g Hillman (1993): boys are more likely to be allowed to cross or cycle on roads, use buses, and go out after dark unaccompanied -  plus girls do more domestic labour- in lone parent households, they do 5 times more than boys, possibly due to socialisation).  
  • Also: feminists claim children are controlled by adults as part of the age patriarchy, which is a result of children being financially dependant on adults.
  • Marxists argue children are taught to submit to the capitalist system rather question the system, and capitalist society results in the exploitation of children -1 in 20 children have been sexually abused and over 90% of children who have experienced sexual abused by someone they knew.
  • Donzelot (1997) argues new forms of surveillance ensure parents are watched, representing a new method of state control
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Childhood in Modern society - 4/4

Marxist View: there are  important class differences between children: poor mothers are more likely to have low birth-weight babies which may delay physical and intellectual development; Woodroffe: working class children are more likely to be hyperactive and suffer long-standing illnesses than upper class children

Child liberationists study inequalities between children and adults and see the need to free children from adult control such as neglect and abuse,

  • (Childline receive 20,000 calls a year from children),
  • control over space - children have to go to school and are watched in shopping centres, whilst road safety and ‘stranger danger’ means children cannot walk alone -  
  • control over bodies through how they sit, walk, run, what they wear etc, also adults touch children's bodies in many ways- pat on head, hold hands etc, adults control how children touch their own bodies, adults also have control over time and how quickly they ‘grow up’.
  • Age Patriarchy - Gittens uses the term for inequalities between adults and children

Laws passed to protect children: 1980 Children’s act, State supervises socialisation via compulsory education, Child benefits/Child Support Act 1991

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Social Construction of Childhood 1/4

Western societies have a child-centred society. In contemporary Britain, childhood is a privileged time - there are laws protecting children, they can play and have all needs met. There are arrangements through institutions that provide unique caring experiences. 

A reason for this is founded in the fact that children are seen biologically immature to adults,  weaker and needing specialised care.  However, sociologists have begun to argue that these phases of life are socially constructed. Some sociologists disagree and, whilst a definable childhood may not have occurred, argue children always, throughout histories and cultures, have had specific roles and were cared for and valued somehow. 

Aries (1973): in medieval times, childhood did not exist. Children, out of infancy, work within the community and were mini adults, expected to take on adult roles and responsibilities as soon as they were physically able. Portraits in the 15/16th century depicted children as mini-adults wearing adult clothes, and 19th century children were completing labour in factories, expected to work as long and as hard as adults, pushed into apprenticeships or earning money as servants. In legal terms, children were punished to the same level as adults. Also, fathers would be the head of the household and often had little to do with children. They had authority and the principle ‘children should be seen and not heard; was in operation. 

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Social Construction of Childhood 2/4

Aries demonstrates the construction of childhood only began during industrialisation. Restrictions were placed upon child labour so they were viewed as innocent and needing protection. Discipline techniques were used to ensure children demonstrated appropriate behaviour. Also, due to the growing pace of the industrialised world, parents were unable to communicate and educate children as much as they could in past.

Therefore, meaning specialised institutions like schools were needed to ensure literature, culture and history were not lost. As a result, a ‘phase of childhood’ was created, meaning children lack power and were dependent on their parents. This period of depending has increased due to the amount of time spent in education and training. 

However, historical evidence such as painting were used, but paintings portray events differently to how they actually occurred. Also, rich people/upper classes were typically the ones to commission art, so they aren’t representative. Aries was criticised for assuming there was no childhood within medieval times, instead the conception/understanding of childhood was different. In addition to this, Aries based his conclusions on a small sample of untypical French aristocratic families. 

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Social Construction of Childhood 3/4

As there are inequalities surrounding gender, class and ethnicity, not all children are treated the same: 100,000 children in the UK fell into relative poverty in 2016-2017. Relative poverty is whereby the individuals lack the income needed to maintain an average standard of living. It is predicted that around 30% of children in the UK are in poverty, and 67% of these children are from lone parent families that are in work. Margo et al point out richer families are able to enrich a child’s life, meaning that some children are forced to take on job as soon as possible to try and help the family or gain access to middle class facilities. 

To support the idea that childhood is socially constructed,there is diversity in the conception of childhood around the world. The freedom from responsibility within western childhood isn't necessarily present everywhere, neither is the legal protection for children. Pilcher (1995) identified wide cultural variations in the role of children - Samoan children are expected to take part in dangerous work and, in Tikopia, children are not expected to obey adults

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Social Construction of Childhood 4/4

Changes in parenting and childbearing: one sociological focus has been to explore the changes in parenting patterns. In the past, functionalists claimed that, due to the fact that women are the ones to have children, they are somehow suited to looking after them, but men are playing an increasing role. Alternative model’s of parenting, such as same-sex parenting, also show that there are effective ways of parenting beyond the traditional expressive/instrumental roles. 

Doucet and Dunne (2000) explore how heterosexual and lesbian mothers create new forms of mothering which challenge and break down patriarchal motherhood, using qualitative, unstructured interviews to create an alternative, feminist approach to motherhood, different from a feminine conception and male model.

They concluded that the lack of traditional gender roles allowed the lesbians to develop new ways of parenting that are linked to being economically independent, and argue that lesbians are resourceful and positive in their solutions to the challenges faced by working mothers, rather than seeing women who work as a problem.

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Disappearing Childhood - 1/3

Technology is an influence on children. A lot of the influences are more violent, therefore making children more violent. Also, childhood and ideas around it vary across cultures. 

Postman (1994) first wrote about childhood in 1982 but was concerned that childhood was disappearing. He argues the lines that used to exist that separate adults and children have become less visible - children are exposed to a range of behaviour, language and attitudes which are seen as more adult characteristics and this is a result of globalised media that allow children to be exposed to various adult sources. (Others disagree, however, and claim that many children remain separate from adults and protected from the adult word that Postman describes. Also, Postman doesn’t have evidence.)

Technology: The Frankenstein Syndrome - The idea that technology was made for one purpose but once it has been made, it has a mind of its own and we lose control. Technology has caused social changes and our habits to change over time

Disappearance of childhood: The social role of the child will eventually disappear due to changes in communication technology. Technology, like television, relies on images, which is used much more often and there is a lack in difference in the ability of an adult and child in accessing these images

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Disappearing Childhood - 2/3

Rise of childhood: With the invention of the printing press around 1450 and the spread of literacy, the ‘communication environment’ rapidly changed. To be literate was to be an adult, so schooling defined childhood and made it necessary. The relationship between the spread of literacy, the development of schools and the growing conception of childhood as a part of life is incontrovertible. Adults developed a whole vocabulary of words and subjects deemed too sensitive for the ears of children. Adults “began to collect a rich content of secrets to be kept from the young: secrets about sexual relations but also about money, violence, about illness, about death, about social relations”. With the advent of electronic information, this monopoly of adults’ crumbled. 

Evidence: Cambridge University (2007) found children in primary school have expressed concern around adult-related themes such as climate change, terrorism, crime and the divide between rich and poor.  Therefore, it is essential to have things like this made for children e.g CBBC. Also, Cunningham (2005) argues parental authority is undermined by the fact that children gain pocket money or have part-time jobs. As a result, children are less dependent on their parents as they have the financial freedom to make decisions. 

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Disappearing Childhood - 3/3

Separate Lives: Silva (1996) argues the roles of parents is diminishing due to the increased importance of roles such as teachers, peers and other influences like film/TV/mobiles/internet/****. This has resulted in children living separate lives from their parents, which can be seen as helped by TVs  in bedrooms and the growth of mobile tech, and this reduces opportunities for parents to socialise children and regulate behaviour. 

Loss of childhood: Palmer (2007) argues that parents use these sources and junk food to keep children preoccupied. This is seen to be a result of the increased levels of demand on the parent lives, as a result, this deprives children of a ‘proper childhood’. She claims this creates a ‘toxic childhood syndrome’ which means a new ‘toxic’ generation will emerge with a range of social and behavioural problems.

Margo suggests an indicator of loss of childhood is the age of sexual intercourse. This has been tracked over the last 50 years, with the average falling from 20 (men) and 21 (women ) in the 1950s to 16 for both genders in the 1990s. Therefore, Margo argues there has been a sexualisation of childhood whereby children are exposed to sexual objects and behaviours in advertising/TV programmers/magazines, e.g increase in the amount of sex tips within magazines aimed at young girls. 

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Position of Children 1/3

Child-centred:  Within the Uk, we are seemingly more childcentred, allowing for families to focus more in activities and outings. The amount of time parents spend with children has doubled and parents are becoming more interested in what the child is doing and now treating them as equals. The welfare of the child is often seen as paramount, with a significant financial cost and sacrifice often associated with parents. 

Causes of child-centredness: Families have gotten smaller which means there is more individual care and attention. In addition to this, affluence means more money is spent in activities enriching the child. The working week has changed, being reduced from 70-80 hours to 43, so parents have more time to spend with children.  The welfare state and social workers ensure a high standard of care - in addition to this, policies like the UN convention on the rights of the Child (1989) sets the international standard of care for children - Children’s Act (1989 & 2004) sets the legal rights of the child. There is a focus on a child’s development, especially medical care and socialisation e.g paediatric doctors and Supernanny.

Compulsory education demonstrates how society has become child-centred, giving everyone a fair chance in life, regardless of background, providing materials for students to learn  without having to pay for equipment, schools provide childcare, free school meals

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Position of Children 2/3

  • Evidence of a child centred societies: Parks/playgrounds, better schools
  • Improved/worsened experiences: generally, childhood has gotten better, however there are inequalities such as legal control,  unhappy children, child abuse, sibling abuse

Legal control: there are laws in place to protect children, that outline health and safety, security and wellbeing policies, however, these also prevent children in participating in certain activities that they aren’t mature enough for, and legal divisions based on these behaviours separating adolescence from adulthood. Jenks (2005) argues that it is impossible to explicitly state when adolescence ends, as there has been an increase in children more willing to want to try these activities as the next stage - instances such as the 1993 James Bulger case. 

Unhappy children: Womack (2011) found Britain’s children are amongst the unhappiest in the West, some due to family break down. UNICEF found - growing up in Britain, children are prone to bad physical and mental health, failure at school, the poorest relationships freeing and family and are exposed to more risks than other countries. Rees (2011) found, every year, around 100,000 children under 16 run away from home in the UK. Unhappy children are more likely to indulge in risky behaviour and are more likely to become invoked in gangs/criminal organisations, prostitution, trafficking, ***********, or being murdered for their organs. 

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Position of Children 3/3

Child abuse: whilst there is an increase in childcentredness, this does not mean all children are happy or well looked after, and most remain unequal to adults. The NSPCC experienced a 29% rise in instances of abuse and neglect being reported. 

Sibling abuse: Some siblings emotionally, physically and sexually abuse their younger/vulnerable siblings. Womack (2010) reported 31% of children experience physical abuse from siblings. As a result of these types of relationships emerging within family units, cycles of abuse can emerge, warning sibling who experience this may abuse younger siblings or show this behaviour as adults, according to Bowes et al (2014). 

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