Childhood is a special time of life, it is a time where children are fundamentally different from adults, it is a time that is based and depends solely on society. Children are seen as physically and emotionally incompetent and therefore need the influence and guidance of adults to be prepared with the life skills needed to be independent, children are seen as most important and are protected far more greatly with changes in the law in the last 50 years.
Pre-Industrial society disregarded childhood altogether, in terms of family children from a middle class background were seen as adults as they participated in the same activities as adults. Philippe Aries a sociologist who studied the construction of childhood looked at paintings and concluded that childhood in a Western European society has only existed in the last 300 years. She also said, before this short time children took on the role of adult until physically capable, also that children looked like ‘mini adults’ in the paintings she studied. She also said that with industrialisation, views of childhood have changed dramatically, children are valued and are in need of nurturing care. In saying this the idea of valuing children reinforced the role of housewife in the family, someone who needs to look after the children. However Aries was criticised by Pollack, he said that her work was weak as it uses paintings as main evidence.
Pre-Industrial families were much bigger before they became more nuclear later on, this was because they relied on offspring to share the workload of the household, as the mortality rate of children surviving was high so parents would have lots of children as insurance, parents wouldn’t have bothered to form emotional attachments with their children due to the fact the likelihood of them surviving was low As times changed and death rates of children have fallen, martial and parental love has grown. This links into Edward Shorters (1975) hypothesis, he argued that high death rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants. He claimed that it wasn’t uncommon for parents to name a new-born baby after a deceased sibling, or even to forget how many children they had had or refer to the baby as ‘it’.
Industrialisation has changed the position of children over the 20th century, laws and perspectives of people show this. Laws restricting children from working at a certain age, and restricting the amount paid to people of a certain age compared to adults. Compared to having children as economical assets to economic liabilities and being fully dependent on parents is a big improvement. Children are subject to laws that restrict their sexual behaviour, their access to alcohol and tobacco these laws act in addition to the laws that affect adults, this proves that society sees adults and children differently and that they should be protected. Children are offered additional protection by the Children Act (1989), which allows them to be taken away from parents by the state if it judges them to be incapable or unsuitable. Children are also given price reductions on many goods and services, for example public transport people under a certain age get to pay less and for clothing they don’t have to pat VAT. However organisations such as the NSPCC (National Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) argue that they need more protection, and the greatest threat to children nowadays is the household. NSPCC report by Cawson et al (2000) said that 16% of children aged under 16 have experienced sexual abuse during childhood, and about 25% of children have experienced physical violence. Aries and Shorter hold a ‘March of Progress’ view of the changing status of children are so much more better protected from harm and exploitation, but is this true?
Firestone (1979) and Holt (1974) argue that what the ‘March of Progress’