Childhood as a social construct

  • Childhood is socially constructed- not biologically fixed, but shaped by society.

  • Evidence for childhood being socially constructed: varies from culture to culture & varies within a culture over time. 

The modern western view of childhood

  • Today childhood special time.

  • Most important feature - modern idea- childhood is separateness: childhood - clear and distinct life stage, and children - separate position from adult’s e.g. different legal status.


Cross cultural differences in childhood

 BENEDICT (1934) - non-industrial societies children are treated differently than western societies:

  • 1) Take responsibility at an early age e.g. rural Bolivia- work at 5.

  • 2) Less value is placed on children obeying adults e.g. Tikopia tribe- up to children to obey adults.

  • Sexual behaviour is often viewed differently e.g. Trobriand Islanders- more tolerant/amused by children’s sexual behaviour.

  • AO3 – BENEDICT - many non-industrial societies, less of a dividing line between childhood and adulthood.

Globalisation of Western Childhood

  • Western childhood becoming globalised - international humanitarian and welfare agencies, who impose western notions e.g. children= innocent/vulnerable, need educating.

  •  Campaigns against child labour or concerns over ‘street’ children.

  • Western society frowns upon the idea that children in developing countries are unable to enjoy their childhood and instead are forced to work and be ‘mini-adults’ .

  • AO3 - the concept of childhood may be different in other cultures - can be preparation for the world of adulthood.

  • AO3 - the notion of western childhood is spread across the world, when in fact sociologists argue - campaigns - humanitarian groups - have little or no impact.


Historical differences in childhood

  • Childhood in Britain is different now, not the same as in the past.

  • ARIES –Middle Ages - Children- seen as ‘mini-adults’: same clothes/punishments, worked as soon as able to.

  • SHORTER - Middle Ages -parents were often neglectful of children due to high death rates.

  • ARIES - 13th century onwards, the modern idea of childhood began to emerge:

  • Schools (which adults had previously attended) - specialise purely on teaching the young - influence of the Church - saw children as being innocent/ needing protection from the adult world.

  • Distinct clothing for children emerged.

  • By the 18th century, handbooks on childrearing emerge, showing a growth in child-centeredness (the idea that society gives childhood and children more importance)

  • Aries - changes led to the modern ‘cult of childhood’.


Reasons for changes in the position of children

  • Laws restricting child labour and excluding children from paid work

  • The introduction of compulsory schooling in 1880.

  • Welfare legislation to protect children such as the 1889 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act.

  • The growth of the idea of children’s rights.  For example, the 1989 Children Act - made parents have responsibilities towards their children, rather than rights as parents.

  •  UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) which granted children various rights under international law.

  • Laws and policies specifically aimed at children e.g. minimum drinking age, smoking age –all emphasising that children are different.

  • Children’s development became the


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