Position of children in the family and society

Childhood is considered a social construct made by society from social news of the people within that society. However different cultures view childhood in a variety of ways, meaning that there is no universal definition for what childhood is. In biological terms we consider childhood to begin from birth, and to once you’ve ‘grown up’ and become independent because in this period of time you cannot survive without some form of independency. Therefore bringing forward the notion that childhood can change over a period of time.

In pre-industrial societies families were a unit of production and all members of the family had to fulfil their role; this includes the children of the families. The children would learn and work as soon as they were able, with their status ascribed to them as soon as they are born into the family. It was Phillip Aires that argued that within pre-industrial society children were ‘little adults’ taking on responsibility far more advanced for their years. He additionally found that in medieval times conceptions of childhood did not exist for example the chronological age of an individual did not have any importance, therefore proving that conceptions had changed slightly from the medieval century to pre-industrial society. He argued that these children took on adult responsibilities from as young as 7 or 8 and some of these would include helping out in productive activities in the household and that in the eyes of the law they could also be held criminally responsible. However, with industrialisation the role of children and also mothers changed as families became to lose their function as a unit of production and were then taken into other institutions (Parsons). The children of the pre-industrial family would not be adults and leave home to work in the factories meaning that the children of the next generation would go to work later in their lives and so therefore it could be argued that industrialization extends and individual’s childhood.

It is only during the past hundred years or so that childhood and adulthood has had a distinct difference. There are now characteristics associated with either for adults and children for example the introduction of education played a big part in this advance. The expansion of education in the twentieth century was made so that children were now obliged to spend a minimum of 11 years in education. Postman saw one of the reasons for this being that when the printing press developed in the 15th century, it was essential that children could read and write, anf so then for id was required that extended schooling happened. Later, because of a variety of different diseases and high mortality rates children had to have special care and protection because they are considered naive and vulnerable. The fact that western societies nowadays have become more child-centred with the well-being and development of the children at the forefront of people’s minds, this protection and care has become the ‘norm’.

To ensure that the protection of children there have been many acts put into place such as the 1989 Child Protection Act. This act was put into place because it became apparent to societies that children cannot look after themselves. However, even with these acts incidents were the child has slipped through the system are still happening such as the case on Baby P. Although, these incidents do make the governments strengthen these acts, such as the 2004 Child Protection Act. Moreover, the mere fact that it is the victim’s name that is always known and not the perpetrator suggests that the position and value of children has changed in society for the better as in Aries research he found that in medieval times the death of a child was not mourned over.

One of Frank Furedis arguments in his Paranoid Parenting debate, is that we live in a world in which we have no control of institutions of government, media, education and religion and that because of this the risks of exposing children to the exaggeration of the media, in association to beauty, drugs and gangs. All of these things that children have a lot more access too, leading to an increase in child crime. Suggesting that children are a lot more like adults in a way that isn’t actually related to work but their actions and their attitudes to life as drugs, gangs etc. are seen as adult activities. The sexualisation of children has also been a major epidemic in recent years, with an increase in beauty pageants of toddlers to pre-teens. Furthermore, feminists would argue that this is because girls and boys are socialised from when they’re younger into specific gender roles. Angela McRobbie is one feminist that argues this point with her research on the Jackie Magazine in the 1980s. She found that this teenage magazine was purely based on marriage and motherhood meaning that teenage girls of that generation are more likely to consider this the ‘norm’ of what a woman should do in her life. Whereas teenage magazines nowadays are more centrally focused on careers and with this suggesting that the roles of children have come round in a circle, with careers and work overcoming the need for marriage and motherhood, however unlike pre-industrialisation, this work takes place after education.

Some sociologists would argue that because children have increasing rights, they have greater similarities with adults meaning that the boundary is blurring between the child and adults realms. Postman has said that the notion of childhood has disappeared due to the influence of the media and technologies which has broken the boundaries meaning that the only difference left is that of a biological difference. The increasing levels of affluence may have had a profound effect on notions of childhood. But we cannot say that childhood no longer exists because children are still depended on their parents because parent are those who bring them up and taking care of them and support them in both material and emotional factors.

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