How far do different theories of child development take account of social and cultural factors?
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How far do different theories of child development take account of social and cultural factors? In this essay I will be examining the concept of childhood and outlining some of the historical approaches towards childhood and development, and how far do the different theories of child development take account of social and cultural factors. Before that, let's look at the concept 'childhood'. Childhood is a complex concept. It varies both between and within cultures and is frequently changing. For this reason it is difficult to definitively describe childhood and we can only talk in very general terms. In the western economically rich world childhood is generally seen as a time when children are carefree and cared for. In an ideal situation they are encouraged to play, have fun, learn and develop ideally at their own pace. People's idea about child and childhood may vary depending upon their occupation, gender, ethnicity, their own experience and preferences. Child development has always remained under close observation by various psychologists and sociologists. In this regard, a large number of theories exist which highlight various factors involved in the development of a child. Contemporary developmental theorists recognize the child as an active agent who is developing both physically and psychologically. The experience of an individual of his/her childhood is dependent upon how they interact with their environment and how that society understands their specific nature and needs.
Thomas Hobbes believed that all human beings were born with original sin, therefore all children were born evil and had to be 'saved'. The most important factors of development were control and discipline. He was an important influence to the formation of the Methodist church. The theory that children were inherently sinful was very desirable and easily identifiable. People believed that children learned obedience to God through obedience to their parents. Childhood was a time of strict parenting and harsh discipline: This harsh and unsentimental view of children was not just religiously, but also demographically and economically motivated. Infant mortalities were extremely high, between twenty and fifty percent of babies died within their first year. Many parents referred to their child as "it" until they reached an age when survival was probable. Although it is problematic to reflect, it seems acceptable that parents were consciously detached from their children as a coping mechanism, should they not survive into adulthood. Although Hobbes advocated a nativist perspective on the essential nature of children, the religious attitudes which he and his contemporaries would have taken for granted as truth are now inactive in the majority of Western societies (apart from some remaining puritan cultures). Anyone who did share the popular religious view would not have been recorded. This validates James and Prouts assertion that childhood is "constructed and reconstructed".
He agreed with Locke that experience plays a crucial role in learning but argued that knowledge could not arise from what is taken in by the senses alone. Kant acknowledges the child as an active agent in their own development. He considers it unreasonable to assume that children are just passive receivers of external actions or blind followers of a pre-determined biological pattern. Both nature and the environment are equally significant. Kant creates the framework for the transactional models of development which assume the child to be an active independent agent in their own development and attempt to explain this relationship of cause and effect that they have with their environment. This is the most popular start point for modern child development theories, such as social constructivist theories. The religiously dictated views of Hobbes and Romanticism motivated views of Rousseau are unconvincing to a modern audience. Their contributions are reflection of their child rearing advice and not their fixed perspectives. James and Prout's assertion that "childhood is constructed and reconstructed is convincing enough to dispel these solely nativist theories. Locke's emphasis on education is echoed by today's politicians. It seems reasonable to assume that the real character of childhood is an interactive process between the two as proposed by Kant. In the civilized world, the burden of social responsibility to our children has always been great and is growing. Emphasizing the socially constructed character of childhood has had a great influence on our attitudes; therefore childhood has probably been viewed to a greater extent as a social and cultural process.
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