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The history of Childhood as a social construction

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Introduction

Childhood as a Social Construction Childhood is such a universal feature of human life that we readily consider it a natural stage of development. After all, doesn't every society that's ever existed have some people identified as "children"? As obvious as the answer to this question may seem, variations in culture and over time are dramatic. People in modern Western societies have a widely held, unquestioned belief that children are fundamentally different from adults. We take for granted that children areóand have always beenóinnocent and entitled to nurturing and protection. However, in other cultures (for example, Japan) children are viewed as much more independent creatures who can act willfully from the earliest moments of life.1 We tend to base our Western beliefs about the nature of childhood on biological considerations. Young children are thoroughly dependent on adults for their survival. Infants cannot feed themselves or take care of themselves in any way. A 10-month-old child, left on its own, will surely die within days. A human may remain dependent on his or her parents for several decades. By contrast, other animal babies are much more self-sufficient. A newborn horse, for example, is able to gallop around when it is only a few minutes old. To us, then, laws protecting innocent and defenseless children from dangers like exploitation at work, pornography, neglect, and abuse make sense. ...read more.

Middle

Along with the notion of protection came the notion of discipline, as parents taught their children to avoid the enticements of their social world. Severe beatings of children in the name of discipline were common occurrences up until the late 18th century (and persist in some corners of society even to this day). Such cruelty was often couched in religious terms. One Dutch theologian offered the theory that God had formed the human buttocks so that they could be severely beaten without causing serious bodily injury.7 Heaven was sometimes described to children in Sunday school as "a place where children are never beaten."8 Definitions of childhood throughout history have been influenced by social institutions as well. Until the late 1800s, for instance, child labor was commonly practiced and accepted.9 In the early part of the 19th century, perhaps half of all workers in northern factories were children under the age of eleven.10 Children worked as long and as hard as adults, sometimes even harder. Because of their small size, they were sometimes given difficult and hazardous jobs, like cleaning out the insides of narrow factory chimneys. In poor urban families, parents often forced their children to engage in scavenging and street peddling. In addition, abandoned children were sometimes recruited by unscrupulous adults for use in robbery and prostitution and other marginal enterprises: Some had their teeth torn out to serve as artificial teeth for the rich; others were deliberately maimed by beggars to arouse compassion. ...read more.

Conclusion

New York: Vintage Books. 4Aries, P. 1962. Centuries of childhood: A social history of family life. New York: Vintage Books. 5McCoy, E. 1981. "Childhood through the ages." Parents Magazine, January. 6Cited in Zelizer, V. 1985. Pricing the priceless child. New York: Basic Books. 7Stone, L. 1979. The family, sex and marriage in England 1500-1800. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 8Archer, D. 1985. "Social deviance." In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (3rd ed., Vol. 2). New York: Random House. 9Archer, D. 1985. "Social deviance." In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (3rd ed., Vol. 2). New York: Random House. 10Coontz, S. 1992. The way we never were. New York: Basic Books. 11Stone, L. 1979. The family, sex and marriage in England 1500-1800. New York: Harper Torchbooks. p. 298. 12Pfohl, S. J. 1977. "The discovery of child abuse." Social Problems, 24, 310-323. 13LeVine, R. A., & White, M. 1992. "The social transformation of childhood." In A. S. Skolnick & J. H. Skolnick (Eds.), Family in transition. New York: HarperCollins. Also Zelizer, V. 1985. Pricing the priceless child. New York: Basic Books. 14LeVine, R. A., & White, M. 1992. "The social transformation of childhood." In A. S. Skolnick & J. H. Skolnick (Eds.), Family in transition. New York: HarperCollins. 15Zelizer, V. 1985. Pricing the priceless child. New York: Basic Books. 16LeVine, R. A., & White, M. 1992. "The social transformation of childhood." In A. S. Skolnick & J. H. Skolnick (Eds.), Family in transition. New York: HarperCollins. ...read more.

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