‘Examine the ways in which childhood can be socially constructed.’ By Sara-Beth Cartwright Sociologists see childhood as a socially constructed, which means that it’s something created and defined by society. They argue that the position that children occupy in society is not fixed, but differs between times, places and cultures. It is generally accepted in our society today that childhood is a ‘special’ time of life, and that children are fundamentally different from adults. There is a belief that children’s lack of skills, knowledge and experience means that they need a lengthy, protected period of nurturing and socialisation before they are ready for adult society and the responsibilities that come with adulthood. As Jane Pilcher (1995) notes, the most important feature of the modern idea of childhood is separateness.
There are many sociological explanations for the changes in the status of childhood. One of the most known statuses of childhood is the ‘Western notion of childhood’ this is the idea that children in the western society are fundamentally different from adults and that there is still a need for constant protection and care from their parents and the government, as they are psychologically and physically immature. Childhood is seen to be a special time in a person’s life, in which they should cherish and enjoy, without being expected to undergo adult actions such as work, especially as children seemingly lack the important skills, knowledge, and basic experience that would be necessary to survive in the adult world. There is too much innocence and naiveté for them to be categorised as adults. It is believe that children need a long period of time of nurturing and socialisation before they are ready to enter the adult world, so they would need the appropriate amount of time to acquire knowledge and experience to enable the child to become an effective member of society.
Assess sociological explanations of changes in the status of childhood There is no fixed definition of childhood or even a universal type of childhood; this is because it is socially constructed. A socially constructed childhood is one, which changes as society does, conforming to society’s evolving norms and values. Therefore, childhood was a different institution in different decades and still is in different countries. The historian Philippe Aries (1960) argued that in the Middle Ages there was no notion of childhood, as children were seen as small adults who socialised with one another without boundaries drawn over age. However, the status of childhood has changed immensely since then, in which today’s society the distinctions between adults and children are clearly drawn, and control over children has increased with adults enforcing the activities a child can and cannot undertake.
March of progress sociologists say that childhood has changed dramatically because children have become more valued, protected and educated. Due to the introduction of various laws, children have become more protected, cared for and treated differently to adults. However the conflict view argues that childhood has not improved because massive inequalities still exist e.g. children suffer under the control and oppression of adults which can often take extreme forms of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In medieval times, childhood was very different to what it is today.
For example, nurseries and playgroups have an increasingly important role in the socialisation of young children whose parents are working full-time. Also, family life is much less stable than it was in the past and this undermines the traditional functions of the family. ________________________________________________________________________ From a functionalist opinion, they believe that the society we live in is based on an unwritten set of shared norms and values – a consensus. This is the consensus theory. This is primary socialisation which is taught mainly by families which teaches the young generation the norms and values.
Assess sociological explanations of changes in the status of childhood? Childhood is a social construction and varies between times, places and groups. Most sociologists see our ides of childhood as a fairly recent one, the result of industrialisation and other social changes. Modern society constructs childhood as a tie of vulnerability, innocence and segregation from the adult world. The March of progress sociologist believe we live in an increasingly child-centred society.
Aries believes that we now live in a child centred society due to these changes. Pollock however disagrees with Aries claiming that childhood has always existed. He supports his claim by having evidence he found in diaries written between the 16th and 20th century which show that children were treated as lesser and often exposed to emotional and physical
Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess sociological explanations of changes in the status of childhood The status of childhood has always been changing with time and in this day and age there are many views over the position of children, being confined, disciplined or controlled by the adult authority. Others say that they are growing up to fast and the distinction between the adults and children is overlapping. Some sociologists believe that childhood is socially constructed, that childhood is dependent on society’s cultures, beliefs and laws etc. An example for this theory is Stephen Wagg’s (1992), who believes a single ‘universal’ childhood, which everyone goes through, does not exist. He says that childhood isn’t natural or defined by biology.
Comparing the western idea of childhood today, to the western idea in the past and in other societies can see this. Today in our society childhood is defined as a special time of life and children have a fundamentally different status from adults. They are regarded as both physically and psychologically immature and they cannot yet be independent and responsible for their own lives. This is why there is a belief that children’s lack of skills, knowledge and experience means they need full-time protection and nurturing until they are ready for an adult society and its responsibilities. Jane Pilcher (1995) notes that separateness is the most important feature of the modern idea of childhood.
Human development and socialization are affected by cultural and parents expectations, especially during childhood. “In societies that are small, egalitarian, and with little occupational specialization, children are expected to learn “on their own,” whereas in industrialized democratic societies there are explicit expectation about what, with whom, when, and how children should learn” (Levy, 1996, as cited by Shiraev & Levy, 2010, p. 199). According to Shiraev and Levy (2010), fundamental human development takes place mostly without regard to the social construct within which it forms the characteristics of a specific culture define an individual’s socialization, those characteristics become intrinsic