The Nature of Childhood

Topics: Childhood, 19th century, Sociology Pages: 5 (1713 words) Published: February 24, 2013
The nature of childhood
Childhood is a social construction as it is something created by society, rather than simply a biological stage. PRE-INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY:
Philippe Aries is a social historian who suggests that ‘childhood’ is a modern invention and he claims that in pre-industrial society, childhood did not exist and children were known as ‘little adults’ who carried out the same work and play activities as adults. There were no such things as kid’s toys etc. Aries argues that children were only seen as an ‘economic asset’ rather than a symbol of love for another. This is said to have been difficult when the death rate of children was so high. Other historians have agreed with Aries, saying that the pre-industrial family was a unit of production, working the land or being engaged in crafts. Children were expected to help parents from a young age and if they didn’t help with domestic production, they usually left home to become servants or apprentices. CHILDHOOD AND INDUSTRIALIZATION:

Even after industrialization these attitudes continued and especially during the working class where children were usually found working in factories, mines and mills. Aries argued that at this point, middle class attitudes towards children began to change as there was a growth in marital and parental love. This was because the infant mortality rate began to fall. The middle of the 19th century is when social attitudes really began to change. This is when campaigners were concerned about juvenile delinquency, beggars and child prostitution and wanted to get children of the streets. Children were excluded from factories, mills and mines, where previously thousands had been killed. Some working class families however resisted these movements because they depended on their children’s wages. Cunningham states that the 19th century saw the social construction of childhood by adults. This childhood had three major categories: It was the opposite of childhood- children were seen to be in need of protection, to have the right NOT to work and to be dependent on adults. The world of adults and the world of children were to be kept separate- the home and school were regarded as the ideal place for children and they were often banned from places like the pub etc. Children were seen to have the right to happiness

Even though these changes were being made, there was still evidence that suggested children were being treated badly and child prostitution and abuse was still a common feature in most cities, and it was not until the 20th century that the age of sexual consent was raised to 16. CHILDHOOD IN THE 20TH CENTURY:

With the 20th century came the emergence of the ‘child centred society’ which was most likely the result of improved standards of living and nutrition in the late 19th century which led to a major decline in the infant mortality rate. The higher standard of living also meant that children also became more expensive. The increased availability and efficiency of contraception allowed people to choose to have fewer children which meant that parents were able to invest more, in the few children that they had in terms of love, socialisation and protection. CHILDREN AND THE STATE:

Concern over children can also be seen within the greater states involvement in protecting young lives. The state supervises children’s socialization through compulsory education which is for 11 years. The role of social services and social workers is to police those families who may be thought to be at risk. The government also take economic responsibility of children by giving child benefits and children’s taxes to parents. The children’s 2004 Act ‘every child matters’, which focuses on the wellbeing of children and young people, form birth, up until the age of 19. This basically stresses better outcomes for children, such as being healthy, staying safe and achieving economic well being. In 2007, the government set up the first department with the word...
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