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Children and Childhood

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Jodie Lindsay-Watson

on 27 November 2018

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Transcript of Children and Childhood

The social construction of childhood
Whilst Biologists often see childhood as a natural category, Sociologists argue that it is socially constructed.

This means it is influenced by the attitudes, actions and interpretations of members of society.

Sociologists use evidence which demonstrates that childhood varies cross culturally, within societies and historically.
In the west, childhood is seen as a time of innocence. Children are different to adults and physically immature.

- the key feature of childhood is in fact this separateness – children have a right to happiness.
'March of Progress view'
Smaller families are becoming
child centred
better care for in terms of their educational, psychological and medical needs (parenting classes, books)
Children are
protected from harm
and exploitation by laws (child labour/child abuse).
The infant mortality rate has declined dramatically since 1900 -
Welfare state
helps parents to care for their children (benefits) +higher living standards.
Reduced working hours for parents
Compulsory education -
children dependent on their parents for longer.
Rise in lifelong learning
ex. OU
Children have become part of the
consumer market
= rise in 'pester power'
Child soldiers in Afghanistan

"Children are used for different purposes, the majority of them experience sexual abuse, others do all kinds of jobs such as cooking, cleaning, day patrols and even fighting."

Draw a picture of what it is to be a child today.
How does childhood differ cross culturally according to sociologists?
Write a paragraph using theorists and concepts.

Historical Differences in Childhood
'mini adults'

1. Minimum ages children can work

Part-time work
The youngest age a child can work part-time is 13, except children involved in areas like:
Children working in these areas will need a performance license.

Full-time work
Children can only start full-time work once they’ve reached the minimum school leaving age - they can then work up to a maximum of 40 hours a week.

Some sociologists believe the position of childhood has been steadily improving
'March of Progress view'
(consensus view)
But other sociologists believe there has not been an improvement and ignores inequalities between children's lives
(conflict view)
Baby P (2007) - slipped through the net of the child protection services. Suffered over fifty injuries over an eight month period, during which he was repeatedly seen by health professions.

BUT, in the UK, there are a number of laws that aim to protect children:

Children Act (1989)
The child's welfare is paramount
Amendments made in
as a response to the case of
Victoria Climbie
= Closer focus upon the needs of the child.

Victoria was said to have suffered from: starvation, cigarette burns and repeated beatings with bike chains.

UN Convention on the Rights of the child

– right to childhood, education, health, treated fairly and have their rights heard.

Nearly all countries signed up except United States and Somalia.


Wagg (1992)

"There is no single universal childhood, experienced by all. So childhood isn't "natural".
Ennew (1982)
- found that in Jamaica, children were part of the workforce, play was their last priority.
Changes in the 19th and 20th centuries:

Lower infant morality rates and smaller families

Specialist knowledge about children's health

Laws banning child labour, Children Act

Compulsory schooling (1880) - Economic assets to economic liabilities

Laws about social behaviour ex. drinking, smoking
18th/ 19th century

During industrialisation, modern industry required an educated workforce so compulsory education was needed.

Children were no longer a unit of production.
Unit of production
Unit of consumption - good and services
The position of children has not improved:
) - Poor children are more likely to die in infancy or childhood, to suffer longstanding illness and be placed on the child protection register.
- 'Age patriarchy' (
) adult domination ex. violence against children.

- we oppress children through banning them from paid work.
- (
) - boys allowed more freedom than girls, girls expected to do more housework.
- (
) Asian parents are more likely to be stricter towards their daughters (also links to gender).
Postman (1994)
Childhood as we know it is disappearing,
children are becoming more like adults.
Blurred lines between childhood and adulthood.
Children introduced to sex at a younger age and are now committing 'adult crimes'
Passive receivers of media content.
Decrease in the "information hierarchy" (children have access too early)

Palmer (2006)

What does 'toxic childhood' mean to you?

Whilst watching the clip, make a list of all the problems associated with a 'toxic childhood'

Key concepts
- Child centred family,
- The social construction of childhood,
- Family as a unit of production / consumption,
- Protection / control / surveillance of children,
- Dependency,
- The disappearance of childhood,
- Consumerism; children as economic assets/ liabilities.

Name 3 policies that have influenced childhood in the UK
-Child protection/welfare laws
-Laws against child labour
- Compulsory education
- Laws against certain types of social behaviour: smoking, alcohol and sex.
What does Postman have to say about childhood today?
- Childhood is disappearing at a dazzling speed
- Blurred boundaries between childhood and adulthood - same TV, language.
- Children introduced to sex at a younger age.
- In extreme circumstances children are committing adult crimes.
What do we mean when we say that childhood is 'socially constructed'?
Childhood is created and shaped by the society which we live in. Childhood differs:
- Historically
-Cross culturally (across different cultures)
- In terms of class, gender and ethnicity.
Even in the west, is childhood an enjoyable time for all children?


1. According to Aries (1960), why did childhood not exist in Medieval Europe?

2. Why did childhood emerge during the 13th century?

3. How did childhood develop in the 15th century according to Postman? What is meant by an
"information hierarchy"

4. State 3 changes in the 19th and 20th century that significantly changed the position of childhood.
Create a detailed timeline which includes all of the key changes in childhood, starting with the view of children in Medieval Europe.

Use detailed explanations with drawings and colour.

Complete the summary of your own learning and reflection on your weekly learning plan
Evaluate the view that the position of childhood within society is gradually improving
(20 marks)

Use evidence (sociologists) and concrete examples.
refers to
shared cultural factors
such as: language, belief, norms and values, traditions.

refers to a person's
physical appearance
, such as skin colour, eye colour, hair colour, bone/jaw structure etc.

Ethnic traits develop because of their unique historical and social experiences, which become the basis for the group’s ethnic identity.
1400 children sexually abused between 1997-2013
How can the instances of sexual abuse in Rotherham be linked to the conflict view of childhood?

Which sociological studies can we link it to?
argues that children are not merely passive victims of socialisation but are active agents who play a major part in creating their own childhoods.

By asking children about their experience of divorce, Smart found that children were actively involved in trying to make the situation better for everybody.
The globalisation of western childhood
Western notions of childhood are being globalised

For example, campaigns against child labour in Third World countries reflect western views about how children ‘ought’ to be.

Complete the activity sheet:

Fill in the gaps
Provide an explanation for the reasons
Evaluate the view that childhood is now disappearing (20 marks)

You would usually be given an item to help you with this question!
Plan your answer on A3 paper in pairs
The 'new sociology of childhood'
believes that the situation is getting even better for children in postmodern society, as parents are trying to protect their children from feelings of insecurity and instability, for example during divorce.
Aries, Postman
Sociologists argue that adults control childrens' time, bodies and access to resources.

Give 2 examples of each of these.
Exam Style Questions

Using one example, explain how the difference between adults and childhood may be becoming less clear (2 marks)

Define the term 'child-centred society' (2 marks)

Outline three ways in which adults control childrens' time, space and bodies (6 marks)
Full transcript