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The concept of childhood differs widely between different cultures, societies and communities

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Introduction

The best and most universal approach to understanding childhood has to be the scientific approach. "How far is this statement true in comparison to the social constructionist approach?" The definition of a child often remains controversial. It can be determined according to the child's age, physical appearance (for example size and dressing) and also his or her ability to think and reason. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNRC) defines a child as one who falls under the age of eighteen years. Despite the establishment of the legal age, concepts of childhood and children often differ widely between different cultures, societies and communities. In order to make sense of childhood, scientific and social constructionist approaches have been involved. Scientific approach involves devising theories such as how children's thinking capacities develop. Thus, it seeks empirical knowledge about children by devising theories and testing them through observations and experiments. At the same time, the social constructionist approach involves looking at the different images and ideas about childhood and how these are products of one's world view. In this essay, we will first examine the differences between the scientific and the social constructionist approaches. From there, I will discuss how each approach is applied in the studies of childhood in relation to cognitive development, moral development and criminal responsibility of children. ...read more.

Middle

Piaget (Rogers, 2003) had carried out "The three mountain tasks" to establish how and at what stage children are able to imagine from another person's perspective. From this experiment, Piaget concluded that children about seven to eight years of age were very strongly influenced by the appearances of things. They were unable to imagine another person's viewpoint. Hence, they were thought to be egocentric. Kohlberg, (Rogers, 2003) another developmental psychologist, used moral dilemmas through a combination of experiments and observations to study how children develop the capacity to make moral judgments and devised a stage theory of moral development. He proposed that, like other forms of cognitive development, moral development also progresses through each stage sequentially. Hence, the scientific approach had illustrated objective facts about how children develop their moral reasoning capacity. It is a means of assessing whether or not an individual child has reached a particular level of cognitive competence and moral understanding. It is superior to the social constructionist approach in this aspect since the social constructionist approach is unable to assess the child's level of moral reasoning by a mere analysis of discourses prevailing in one's culture or society. A child's moral values may be socially constructed, but the development of his ability to reason is independent, thus not constructed by ideology of the world. ...read more.

Conclusion

In the use of an applied approach, people draw upon the scientific approach to obtain practical and objective facts about children. Meanwhile, social constructionist approach is used to take account of the variety of ways in which children and childhood are constructed. In Asquith's applied approach, he used the scientific approach where he built his analysis in part on developmental theories and the results obtained from scientific studies of children's capacities at different stages in their development. Meanwhile, he also drew upon the social constructionist approach in his analysis of how children who kill are treated by law. In conclusion, the understanding of childhood is never pre-determined. They have differed since historical times and over the ages, with variations between different societies, cultures and communities. The scientific approach has offered objective facts about children and provides comprehensive assessment of the cognitive and moral development of children. Without such information, all people can do is to fall back by basing their actions on subjective opinions and preconceptions. The scientific approach offers clarity and practical guidance to people's actions. On the other hand, the social constructionist approach highlights the alternative ways of viewing social phenomena which will influence the actions people take and value judgments they make. Most importantly, the real power of social constructionism lies in the idea of multiple realities itself. Hence, both approaches are necessary and useful in the understanding of childhood. ...read more.

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