Gender & Play - Childhood Influences

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Childhood is simply the time between infancy and adulthood, the time when we are developing, learning and are dependent on someone to guide us and help us through life. Richard Mills’ (2000, p.8) research shows many views, such as is “childhood a state of powerlessness and adaptation to a lack of power (as Waksler maintains, 1991:69)?” “...Or dependency (Shipman, 1972: 13)? Can it not simply be regarded as a period of biological, intellectual, and social development; as a time for the ‘accumulation of experience’ (Wadsworth, 1991:13)? Leading to self-definition (19991: 12)?” Or does it have a whole different meaning all together? What does childhood mean to you? Does it have the same meaning to everyone? Does the meaning change as we get older? Is everyone’s childhood the same? Or does it differ according to, gender, culture, class, the country you live in, religion and time? In this assignment I will address some of these issues and issues surrounding them.

There are many interesting themes surrounding childhood; I will be focusing on gender as I believe that your experience of childhood is greatly influenced by this, and gender stereotypes are in result influenced by many external factors, some of these include, media, culture and social conformity. A report done by the American Psychological Association in the Mail (2007) and Telegraph (2007) newspaper reports the strong influences of media on young children and how “The consequence of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls' healthy development”. Media plays a big role in today’s society and the development of not only the mind of children but adults too are influenced, the changes and views are deeply imbedded in the subconscious.

Another big influence on children, are other children, it is reported in the Independent Education (1996, pp.10-11) that girls have a better attitude to learning, when children were questioned about this “boys themselves put it down to their friends' influence”. All human beings want to be accepted by not only their own social groups but by all beings. It is such a strong desire that individuals will suppress their own thoughts on an issue and conform to that of a group. It is not only children that are heavily influenced by peers, though they do hold the fort on the whole issue. This is further supported by Schmalz and Kerstetter study, (2006. P.550) that children although unaware “curb their behaviour” “ fit the social norm of appropriate and inappropriate behaviour based on gender, from lessons learned from media, community, family, and friends, yet they lack the ability to explain or understand why.”

From a very young age children are treated differently according to their gender; at birth the very first thing everyone wants to know is if the baby is a girl or a boy; do they need to buy a ‘pink’ or ‘blue’ gift? Neill Thew (quoted in Mills, J. & Mills, R 2000. p.134) that in a hospital near his area “babies were tagged” differently “Little boys were given a wrist band reading, ‘I’m a boy’, whereas girls had one proclaiming, ‘It’s a girl’.” Initially one may think what is the difference? It is ‘only’ stating the differences in gender and has no other meaning. However, Thew believes that there is an “implicit idea underlying this – that boys are assumed to have ready access to active social agency and girls are not – is so powerfully encoded in many other areas of gendered life. It is not, in other words, either accidental or unimportant, but rather one minor example of a regularly present form of social engendering.” A baby from moment go is categorized, leaving little room for them to decide what they like or don’t like. Throughout their childhood they see examples of conformity which they ‘must’ follow to fit in, girls should play with dolls and boys should play with cars.

This notion continues throughout history; gender stereotypes have existed...
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