Sociologists see childhood as socially constructed; in other words, as something created and defined by society.
They argue that what people mean by childhood, and the status of children in society, is not fixed but differs between different times, places and cultures.
This can be illustrated by comparing the western idea of childhood with childhood in the past and in other cultures.
Argues the most important feature of childhood is separateness.
Childhood is seen as a distinct life stage, and children in our society occupy a separate status from adults.
This can be illustrated in several ways, for example, through laws regulating what children are allowed, required or forbidden to do.
Their difference from adults is also illustrated through differences in dress, especially for younger children, and through products and services especially for children, such as toys, food, play areas and so on.
Related to this separate status is the idea of childhood as a ‘golden age’ of happiness and innocence.
However, this innocence means that children are seen as vulnerable and in need of protection from the dangers of the adult world and so they must be separated from it. As a result, children’s lives are lived largely in the sphere of family and education, where adults provide for them and protect them.
However, this view of childhood as a separate age-status is not found in all societies.
Argues that because childhood is socially constructed there isn’t one single universal experience of childhood.
This means that, while all humans go through the same physical process of ageing, different societies construct or define this process differently.
Historical differences in childhood
Philippe Aries (1960)
Has argued that in pre-industrial society, children as we know them did not exist. Instead, children were ‘little adults’ who would take on adult responsibilities as young as 7 or 8. At...