Examine different sociological views on changes in the experience of childhood in the past 50 years (24 marks)
Examine Different sociological views on changes in the experience of childhood in the past 50 years (24 marks)
According to Aries (1962), childhood can be defined as a social construction. Children were once regarded as ‘little adults’ and an economic asset rather than a symbol of love due to the high death rates making it hard to emotionally invest. However, now, according to Pilcher, a key aspect of childhood is ‘separateness’ from adulthood.
Aries definition of childhood as a social construction can be supported by cross-cultural differences and more specifically Punch (2001). Punch studied children in Bolivia and found that at age 5 children were expected to work and take on responsibilities. This cultural variation shows childhood to be a social construction as if it were biological everyone would have the same experiences.
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There have been several state policies that have constructed and defined childhood, one of which is the children’s act which aimed to give children more rights to make a positive contribution to society. It argues the best place to raise children is at home with their parents which brought about the social view that it is essential for children to spend time with immediate family in order to grow up to be independent. In addition to this, another state policy was the Factory Act which saw the removal of young children from work, strict hours placed upon adolescents and compulsory education put into place. This effected society by presenting and supporting the idea of separateness and children’s need of education.
Furthermore, Phillips, a new Right theorist, argues that children are vulnerable and in need of protection. They are too immature to make decisions about their lives, particularly as they have become increasingly important over the past 50 years. Increases in eating disorders and suicide show this. Phillips can be criticized by Morrow who believes children can be positive contributors to family life, however, both the conventional and alternative view generalize their arguments in this case.
Moreover, Postman argues that childhood is disappearing due to an increase in exposure to violence and death on TV and in the media, as well as social blurring and a lack of markers of adulthood such as marriage, careers and housing. The difference between children and adults is becoming less obvious. In response to this, some may argue that childhood is merely changing, rather than disappearing, with society. Childhood has never remained constant throughout time and culture and therefore allows room for it to transform and consequently perhaps childhood can no longer be described as separate to adulthood. In addition, social blurring is not always negative as it is natural for children to idealise their parents as well as a positive thing by promoting respect within the family.
Pugh argues that parents who are cash rich but time poor now use consumption as compensation for the lack of time they spend with their children as a result of guilt. Although some may argue that consumption can be a positive thing as shopping in many cases has become a family activity.
Over the past 50 years it has been claimed that childhood is slowly disappearing whereas others would argue it is merely changing from it being separate to adulthood, to children once again taking responsibility for their own lives. Throughout the next 50 years, due to stories in the media, childhood may change once more as parents become more concerned and protective of many new dangers.