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Flashcards in Childhood Deck (25)
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Why do sociologists view childhood as being a social construct?

Sociologists see childhood as created and defined by society rather than as a completely natural phenomenon because childhood varies across time and place and is strongly influenced by culture.

For example, poor children in India may spend a lot of time begging on the streets whereas in the UK they would be attending school. Some sociologists argue that childhood as a special phase of life is a relatively modern phenomenon.


What is the modern western notion of childhood?

Sociologists suggest that the modern notion of childhood is characterised by:

Separateness (Pilcher, 1955)- children are separate from the adult world- e.g. there are laws regulating what they can and cannot do

A 'golden age' of innocence

A time of vulnerability


Explain the cross-cultural differences in childhood.

Benedict (1934) argued that children in simpler, non-industrial societies are generally treated differently from their western counterparts in three ways:

1) They take responsibility (e.g. economic and caring) at a young age
2) Less value is placed on children showing obedience to adult authority
3) Children's sexual behaviour is often viewed differently meaning they can be sexual at a younger age.

There is less separatism in non-industrial societies.


What is globalisation?

The idea that the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and barriers are disappearing, as a result of media and information technology, the growth and spread of multi-national corporations, and air travel. For example, Skype and Whatsapp make it easier to stay in touch with people all over the world.


How might western notions of childhood have been exported?

Western notions of childhood have been exported through globalisation. For example, there are lots of charities to help underprivileged children in other countries. Because we have multinational corporations and supply chains throughout the world we put pressure on these companies to not use child labour as in the west this is regarded as exploitative and wrong. Further, western media images of childhood may have influenced perceptions of childhood in countries that consume western media.


What did Aries argue about historical childhood?

The position of children has changed over time as well as between societies.
Aries (1960) argues that in the Middle Ages 'childhood did not exist'. They were not seen as having different needs from adults once they were no longer infants. There is evidence for this from art works from the medieval times where children were drawn as tiny adults.


What did Shorter (1975) argue?

He argued that high death rates in children encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants.


What is the modern 'cult' of childhood?

According to Aries, aspects of the modern notion of childhood began to emerge from the 13th century:
- schools started to specialise in the eduction of the young
- Growing distinction between children's and adults clothing
- Family life become more child-centred, at least among the middle-classes.
- Aries argued that the rise in the affection towards and attention paid to children produced a kind of culture (or cult) of childhood


Evaluate Aries theory regarding the development of childhood in the 17th century

- methodological issues with use of paintings and diaries as evidence because their interpretation is subjective and painters might just be bad- e.g. medieval painters had difficulty depicting scale, and certain animals, so may also have been poor at painting children.

- Childhood did exist, it was just different

+ Aries shows that childhood has changed, suggesting that childhood is socially constructed


Explain the changes in the position of children.

Laws restricting child labour and excluding children from paid works, making them economic liabilities rather than assets.

Compulsory schooling- by the 1880s, schooling was compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 10

Child protection and welfare legislation - e.g. in 1889 the first act of parliament for the prevention of cruelty to children, commonly known as the "children's charter" was passed. This enabled the state to intervene, for the first time, in relations between parents and children.

Idea of children's rights- parents have responsibilities but not rights over children

Smaller family sizes and lower infant mortality rates encourage parents to make greater emotional and financial investments in each child.

Medical knowledge about children- e.g. about child development and psychology

Laws and policies specifically for children

Industrialisation- required a more educated workforce


Has the position of children improved?

March of progress view: position of children is progressively improving with children today being more valued and cared for, better educated and better protected.

Conflict view: the march of progress view of modern childhood is based on a false and idealised image that ignores both inequalities among children and inequalities between children and adults.


How can the position of children be seen to have improved.

Children are now protected by the law

Children do not work

Children are the focus of the family.

This is proposed by Aries and Pilcher.


What are some statistical economic inequalities between children?

47 percent of children in lone parent families are in poverty.

71 percent of children in families with no working adults are in poverty.


What are the effects of living in poverty?

The potential effects of living in poverty:
- Poor physical health (e.g. due to diet/ poor housing)
- Mental health problems
- Underachievement at school
- Bullying


What are some inequalities between children relating to gender and ethnicity?

Boys may be given more freedom than girls- eg in Muslim culture where the concept Izzat restricts girls

There is evidence that girls are expected to do more domestic labour and help younger siblings more than boys.

Girls' socialisation may contribute to their better educational achievement

Minority ethnic children may encounter racism. This can be seen to threaten their innocence, and worsen their experience of childhood.


Explain the inequalities between children and adults.

Critics argue that there exist major inequalities between children and adults.

Firestone (1979) suggested that childhood and motherhood should be abolished too. She agreed with Aries that childhood emerged in the 16th century and thinks that it glorified ideas of innocence and brought with it segregation and oppression. Segregation is a sign of domination and oppression and kids have separate places eg schools which takes away a child's freedom. Children who do not conform become objects for psychiatrists or social workers.


What are the different forms of adult control.

Neglect and abuse

Control over children's space: where they can go and should be at different times

Control over children's time: when they have to do things

Control over children's bodies: what they wear and how they look

Control over children's access to resources: what school they go to, money and food


Gittins 1989 about adult-child inequalities.

Gittins describes inequalities between adults and children as 'age patriarchy'- this means that adults exercise dominance and control over children.


Why do some sociologists believe that childhood is oppressive?

Gittins- age patriarchy

Firestone- segregation is a form of domination

Hockey and James (1993) suggest that the following is evidence that children may experience childhood as oppressive:

'Acting up'- acting like adults e.g .smoking and drinking, younger children exaggerating their age 'I'm nearly ten'

'Acting down'- behaving in ways typically expected of younger children e.g. engaging in baby talk.

These behaviours can be interpreted as children trying to escape from modern childhood.


Why do some people think childhood is toxic?

Some people think childhood is toxic because it consists of challenges and difficult situations such as competitiveness and academic pressure, a lot of exposure to social media, and being oppressed or violated by adults. These things contribute to making childhood an unhappy experience.

Sue Palmer- author, claims children need love and play from the ages 3-7 and that a kindergarten style of learning should be implemented to prevent toxic childhood by reducing the academic pressure on them.


What are the arguments against the idea of toxic childhood?

Parents, especially fathers, spend more time caring for kids now- they are more child focused

Teens are more likely to describe their parents than footballers or popstars as their role model: celebrities do not have the influence on children that some commentators suggest

Internet access has been shown to increase a child's academic results: it is easier for children to carry out research, and there are e.g. revision websites

Only a few children live in poverty and although it is bad they are a minority

People dislike change and so automatically decide it is bad even if it is change for the better

Academics feel pressure to respond negatively to things, and it makes a better story to say that childhood is toxic even though it is not

Children are able to communicate with more people and have more friends through games and online resources
Children are savvy enough to be able to understand what commercial agencies are trying to do to them when they communicate with them.


Explain the idea of the disappearance of childhood.

Postman (1994) suggests that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’. He attributes both the rise and fall of childhood to the rise and fall of print culture, this now replaced by television. This reduces separatism as children now find out things that were once kept from them- e.g. relating to sex and violence. Children are now exposed to things beyond their years, and this contributes to a loss of innocence and cynicism.


Evaluate the disappearance of childhood.

(+) Valuable in showing how different types of communication technology can influence the way in which childhood is constructed.

(-) However, reductionist- overemphasises a single cause

(-) Based on years of research into children’s unsupervised games and songs, Opie (1993) argues that there is strong evidence of the continued existence of a separate children’s culture over many years.


Explain the post modern view of childhood.

Jenks (2005): The post modernity view argues that childhood is just different now rather than disappearing. The high divorce rates generate feelings of insecurity, which translates to parents being over protective of their children as they are the only certain thing they have. Childhood is not disappearing as separatism continues.


Explain the new sociology of childhood.

The new sociology of childhood sees children as active agents in shaping their own childhood, and so believes that the only way to study childhood accurately is through understanding children. This is often done through unstructured interviews, visual methods or observations.