Assess Sociological Explanations of Changes in the Status of Childhood

Childhood is socially construted, this means it is only a human concept and the only reason that ‘childhood’ exists is because society makes it that way. Over time childhood has changed as different norms and values over each century of life have been different and is still changing at present. Also in different places of the world there are different cultures and ethics so therefore their veiw of childhood will also be different. As Wagg (1992) states ‘Childhood is socially constructed.
It is, in other words, what members of particular societies, at particular times, and in particular places, say it is. There is no single universal childhood, experienced by all. So, childhood isnt “natural” and should be distinguished from mere biological immaturity. ’ However childhood has not always been controlled like this as in pre-industrial times Aries (1960) argues that ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’ Soon after being weaned, the child entered wider society on much the same terms as an adult.
However childhood has changed over time and as it says in Item A ‘The development of industrial society meant that children’s life’s were increasingly confined, disciplined, and regulated by adults’. In historical times law often made no distinction between children and adults and as Shorter (1975) argues that high death rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants. Childhood is much different now as although neglect is still present, there are laws imposed to protect children, such as the 1989 Child Protection Act.

The March Of Progress view would agree that childhood is better now than it was due to laws like this. According to sociologist Aries childhood gradually began to emerge from the 13th century onwards, as schools specialized more in teaching the young since the Compulsory Schooling Act 1880 was imposed leading children to become more educated as adults. This was thought to be the influence of the church as they started to see children as fragile ‘creatures of god’ in need of protection. Children’s clothing also began to change, as before there was no distinction between adults and children.
However some sociologists have criticized Aries for arguing childhood did not exist in the past. Pollock (1983) for example argues that society in the middle ages simply had a different notion of childhood from todays. The ‘March Of Progress’ view argues that today children in western societies has been steadily improving and today it is better than it has ever been. Aries and Shorter both hold this view as they argue today’s children are more valued, better cared for, protected, educated, enjoy better health, and have more rights than those of previous generations.
Due to this more ‘child centered’ society there are higher living standards and smaller family sizes which gives governments more money to offer free health care. However ‘The Conflict View’ with sociologists such as the Marxists and Feminists dispute this. They argue that society is based on a conflict between different social groups, such as social classes or genders. This view would see inequalities among children, as they still remain unprotected and badly cared for.
Gender and ethnic differences may also occur as for example boys are generally allowed more freedom than girls, and also from Brannen’s (1994) study of 16-16 year olds found that Asian parents were more likely than other parents to be strict towards their daughters. There are also many class inequalities between children as according to Woodroffe (1993) children of unskilled manual workers are over three times more likely to suffer from hyperactivity and four times more likely to experience conduct disorders than the children of professionals.
There are also major inequalities of power between children and adults. March of Progress writers argue that adults use this power for the benefit and protection of children, for example by passing laws against child labor. However, critics such as Firestone (1979) and Holt (1974) argue that this is an excuse for new forms of oppression and control. Neglect and abuse towards children still occurs in society today as it did in pre-industrial times. Adult control over children can take the extreme form of physical neglect, or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
Some may say due to figures from charities such as Child Line rising there is a ‘dark side’ to family life, where children are victims. This shows in some cases the status of children hasn’t changed over time. Childhood has changed more in other ways such as parents have more control over children’s space as there is increasingly close surveillance over children in public spaces such as shopping centre’s, especially in times when they should be in school.
However in contrast to this Katz (1993) describes how rural Sudanese children roam freely both within the village and several kilometers outside it. This shows that changes can still occur but not in some places of the world. Adults in today’s society also can control children’s daily routines, for example when they get up, go to bed, have breakfast, etc. Whereas in historical times this wouldn’t have been an issue. Adults exercise enormous control over children’s bodies including how they sit, walk, and run, what they wear, hairstyles etc. hereas in some non-industrial cultures this may not be an issue, and therefore giving children more freedom. Some sociologists such as Postman (1994) argue that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’ as he says by giving children the same rights as adults, the disappearance of children’s traditional unsupervised games, the growing similarity of adults and children’s clothing and even committing adult crimes lies in the rise and fall of print culture and its replacement by television culture.
This is evident as unlike the printed word, television does not require special skills to access it, and therefore make it available to everyone, including children and this also shows in Item A as it says ‘childhood and adulthood is once again becoming blurred’. Unlike Postman, Opie (1993) argues that childhood is not disappearing, based on a lifetime of research she argues there is strong evidence of the continued existence of a separate children’s culture over many years.
Child liberationists argue that modern western childhood is oppressive and children today are subject to adult authority. Western notions are also being globalised, as international humanitarianism and welfare agencies have exported and imposed on the rest of the world. In this view childhood is not disappearing, but spreading throughout the world. Overall, there has been many changes in childhood and children’s status over the years, and is different in all parts of the world due to ethics and culture. Many sociologists have different viewpoints about childhood as a life stage.

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