'Examine the effects of social change on the position of children (20 marks)'
Social change refers to any significant alteration over time in behaviour patterns and cultural values and norms. By “significant” alteration, sociologists mean changes yielding profound social consequences. In this essay I will be examining the social changes in society, for example the child labour laws, compulsory education and the fall in infant mortality rate and how these effect how children are viewed in today’s society. Many sociologists believe that child hood is socially constructed- this is because it is not naturally occurring, it is created by society. Social construction is the idea that some ne or something has been created and defined by society. In centuries of childhood (1962) the French historian Philippe Aries argued the concept of childhood did not exist in medieval Europe. He based his argument on the way children were depicted in paintings of the time. Aries claimed that soon after the children were weaned, they were regarded as little adults and treated as such. From an early age they worked alongside adults on the fields or in cottage industries, they dressed like adults and in many ways behaved like adults.
Law changes in the mid-19th century have brought about changed in the position of children in society. Campaigners were concerned about juvenile delinquency, beggars and prostitution. Child labour was made illegal and education was made compulsory for all children. However this was criticised by many sociologists who argued that industrialisation brought about a strong workforce. Marxists would argue that child labour laws force children to be more dependent on adults than ever. Due to improved sanitation, health care, and the ease of availability or obtaining healthy food, the infant mortality rate has been falling. Infant mortality rate is the number of babies who die before their first birthday per thousand of the population per year. This has mean that families can now have less babies as there is a higher chance of survival. One of the roles of the family is to invest financially and emotionally in their children. Marxists would argue that this gives adults more control over their children’s space, time, bodies and access to resources and this this can lead to neglect and abuse- Marxists would argue that children should be allowed freedom and independence.
The March of progress view argues that society has finally recognized that childhood is a distinct phase in one’s life where children should be treated separately in order to maintain their innocence. Children are more valued, cared for, protected and educated due to the introduction of various laws. Aries and Shorter say that the changes in society have improved children’s provision and the family is more ‘child-centered’ in play areas, child orientated holidays, TV channels, toys etc. However, Marxists and feminists disagree- they point out that gender, ethnicity and call all impact on a child’s experience. For example, poor mothers are more likely to produce underweight and unhealthy babies. Also, genders are assigned different roles providing them with different, often unequal opportunities e.g. females are more likely to perform domestic labour than males.
The conflict sociologists argue that the march of progress view has failed to recognize the massive inequalities that still exist in childhood. They say that many children today remain unprotected and badly cared for. For example 1/4 young adults were severely maltreated during childhood. Child liberationists such as Firestone and Holt argue that children are oppressed by adults who turn their control and dominance into a weapon. For example, in 2006 31, 400 children were on child protection registers because they were said to be at risk of significant harm. These figures emphasize the dark side of family life of which children are victims. Adults have full control over the freedom of children, particularly parents e.g. children can no longer work therefore they have become economically dependent on their parents. So a child’s resources are limited to what their parents can offer them and those in poor families suffer under this. Aries and Shorter argue that children are more protected through laws and better cared for through specially trained professionals, pediatric doctors, child psychiatrists etc.
Neil Postman argues whether children are really children for that long. He argues that childhood is becoming effaced with adulthood e.g. young girls can be seen wearing short skirts and heels, which you would normally expect an older woman to be seen in. Furthermore, there has been an increasing amount of children committing adult crimes such as murder. This could be a result of TV and games which is exposing children to violence and influencing their actions. Palmer argued that technological and cultural changes have damaged children physically, emotionally and intellectually. We can see evidence of children’s position in society not being better, they are overweight, have little contact with parents who work all the time and they are subject to exams at school from an early age.
It is clear that childhood has improved since the middle ages. Society has recognized that children need to be treated differently to adults and the introductions of various laws are evidence of this. However it is parents who have full control over children and how they choose to use it will affect their individual experiences e.g. some parents may not care about their child’s welfare and leave them out on the street. But as society has become more child-centered such as the existence of various charities like the NSPCC the lives of children can be transformed and they can be prevented from such dangers. There is evidence of children enjoying quality family time in child friendly environments like theme parks and play areas- parents work harder, but they also play harder.