A right to development
Attitudes to children have changed over time – particularly during recent decades. 191 countries are signatories to the UNCRC – “… parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child” – recognises development occurs and is of specific importance during childhood.
Child development is not just a subject for academic study. Understanding is important for all who come into contact with children. Global perspectives are important too. However, most work on studying child development has focused on and/or originated in Western societies.
Images of childhood
Even within the same culture, individual’s ideas on childhood vary due to gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, own experiences. Social expectations change over time – e.g. feeding babies to a timetable vs. feeding on demand.
Children and childhood
There is a difference between ‘children’ – the young person and ‘childhood’ – a time of life.
James and Prout: “The immaturity of children is a biological fact but the ways in which that immaturity is understood is a fact of culture … childhood is … constructed and reconstructed both for and by children”
Constructed & reconstructed = variable and changing – e.g. changes in school leaving and voting ages in UK. The apparent conflict between the raising of one and lowering of the other => needs and capacity are not the only considerations affecting changes in policy.
For & by = powerful influence of others, but they also have agency over their own lives – e.g. through play / peer culture (Kehily and Swann) – they make their own choices insofar as circumstances allow. Children also shape the adults they are with – a symbiotic relationship. Children are therefore not passive but ‘social actors’ – they have their own beliefs and ideas.
Childhood as development
Concept: “children are different from adults” has become a powerful framework for constructing childhood. Scientific approaches to child development have come largely from Western contexts but their influence is global.
Origins of child study in the West
1 – Discovery
Ariès argues up to end of C15 children were regarded as miniature adults – from studies of medieval pictures / diaries. Adults and children shared similar leisure and work activities. Children emerge as different only from C16 onwards. Shahar points out the limited sources used by Ariès to conclude this – poor children rarely painted or written about despite them being in the majority.
2 – The “ useful child”
Long tradition of children contributing – particularly in poor families. Industrialisation created new demands in C18/19. Social reformers questioned impact on development. Factory Act 1833 - the start of protection from exploitation. Childhood seen as a time for play & education for all children. Useful child image now very controversial – ‘child labour’ – Cunningham.
3- The school child
School becomes central to the concept of a ‘normal’…