Idea of Childhood
The idea of childhood revolves around the time and activities human beings engage in during the earlier stages in live. It is therefore the time when children go to school, play together, grow strong as well as confident because of encouragement and love from the family and other extended relatives. In essence, it is the time spent by the child as he/she grows up with other members of the society. It is during this time that various activities, lessons and experiences are learnt by the child, which is all summed up to mean ones childhood. The idea of childhood has been changing over the ages, and what used to be considered essential for one’s childhood has changed or being replaced by others resulting from change in technology. The world is changing, and the time and activities for children have changed to catch up with the requirements of the new world. This paper explores the idea of childhood and how it has changed over time to fit the needs of the modern child.
Childhood is basically the manner in which the society and parents in particular brings up their children. It is a time when children are made distinct from the adults in the kind of activities, socialization, games they engage. It is a separate stage of development for children when they are able to learn from one another with little or no adult engagement. In Europe, especially during the medieval period, the concept of childhood among children was limited to children from the upper class families. This is because many children from the low income earning families had a rather longer infancy period. Most of the childhood and its activities were therefore enjoyed by a few members of the society. In the past, there were so many outdoor activities for the child to engage in and sometimes to spend time in. Today, many people argue that childhood is slowly fading out due to technology. It is true that there is a change of activities that children engaged in the past from outdoor to indoor. The nature of childhood has changed over the past years, and Philippe Aries may be right to argue that there was no idea of childhood during the medieval era. In the past, children were considered as small parents who could work alongside the adults. The medieval era families gave birth to many children to take care of immature deaths and labor. Thus, there were few activities the children engaged in their own other those directed by parents.
Childhood ideology came into being during the 19th and the 20th century. It is at this time that parents recognized that their futures were solely depended upon their children. As a result, parents began to worry about the health and education of their children. This formed the basis one’s childhood. The campaign to relieve all children from labor and other family related responsibility began to hit the road. By 1946, an Act was passed to provide the children with family allowances. This was a major achievement in building the children’s childhood experiences. During this time, an increasing number of children began going to school. In schools, childhood experiences took another different shape depending on one’s wealthy. However, the foundation of outdoor childhood experiences had already began to take shape. Things like climbing trees, riding bicycles, engaging in skipping games, playing around the field with pears, doing homework, singing in a company of many other children from different families, all these shaped the activities children engaged in. This was the moment of happiness for many children whose mind and body could roam over a range of constructive activities mentally, socially and academically. At this stage the children could no longer be considered economical since the rights of children across the globe had prohibited child labor.
In the following years, the difference between the rich and the poor families began to change childhood ideologies in many families. Many rich families removed their children from the adult society. They took them to boarding schools where they could share childhood experiences amongst themselves. This afforded them with enough time to explore very rare experiences amongst themselves. They could play games together, learn together, and suffer together in the name of building their childhood. On the other hand, in the middle class families, childhood concept developed as a separate stage of life development. Many working class parents came to accept the role of childhood development later after the wealthy parents had already embraced it. At this stage, female genders were exempted from the workplaces especially the middle class families. This nevertheless brought out another twist in childhood development as women developed stronger association with childcare which reduced the extent of association between children amongst themselves. This was also very common during the medieval ages.
In the mid 1920s and the beginning of 1930s, childhood had already changed. Many children were socialized towards becoming obedient members of the society; a practice better described as ‘behaviorism’. In this period, parents became part and parcel of childhood development of their kids. They were concerned about how their children will develop adulthood behaviors earlier in life in order to mold their future well being. Thus, the issue of role modeling prevailed in childhood development at this period, and much attention was also paid on the child’s peer groups. Many childhood activities were determined by the kind of peers the children engages with thus limiting the range of childhood friends, activities and experiences the one could associate himself/herself with.
By mid 20th century, and in 1940s to be specific, the reactionary behavior against behaviorism emerged as children went for more outdoor activities and friends at the expense of parent-controlled childhood. The effects of maternal deprivation became a major concern for many families. As the post-war era approached, families saw the need of developing their children academically and economically. Thus, parents began investing massive time, resources and hopes in developing their children than it was in the previous centuries. Many children got educated as parents channeled their income towards their well being. Such children also expected an unprecedented support from the same parents even during their twenties. This was quite unimaginable and unrecognizable during the previous centuries where education and child support was never handled carefully.
Another sudden change in childhood development emerged in 1970s when new rights for children were enforced by the United Nations. Such rights included; the right to education, not to be beaten in schools, for consultation in case parents decides to divorce among others. This prolonged childhood development besides children gaining a much higher status in the family and in the larger society.
However, in the modern world, life around the children has become a bit toxic. The modern child has lost what used to be childhood environment, and hence the death of childhood and its meaning. Among the major factors leading to the change of childhood and its environment is the change in technology, especially the invention of television and computers. The child activities, socialization and education is now monitored or facilitated by the above mentioned items from the comfort and watchdog of the parents. For instance, in terms of socialization, there is a whole 24 hours menu of television channels targeting children. This also works as a 24 hour clock baby-sitter which is packed with numerous advertisements designed to attract the children’s attention towards consumption society. In case the children get bored with such television contents, they can switch to the computer for entertainment. The computer is capable of generating games for the children as well as connects the children to the outside world and friends via internet. All these activities can be done from the house without necessarily visiting the outside world to interact with others. This is considered much safe, convenience and surety to the parents who are ever worried of the whereabouts of their children whenever they are far from the house. In case the child is also bored with the computer and the television programmes, the child can resolve to engage with the numerous toys available according to their needs and gender. For instance, a female child can play around with female-like toys with hair to plait on while a male child will enjoy the comfort of car toys. Indeed the meaning of childhood to the children has been lost. Everything is now done indoors where little or no outdoor activities effective for the children are made possible. This is absurd.
In conclusion, the idea of childhood began with little knowledge on how to engage the children in childhood development apart from engaging them in forced labor. Over time, the concept changed to engaging the children in collective social, psychological and moral development which involved much of the outdoor activities. Fortunately, during this time, parents and the society at large learnt the need to educate the children, which also brought together children from diverse background in common activities and games. However, in the modern world, childhood has been killed. Children no longer engage in many outdoor activities. Their development is controlled by the family, as it is the kind of activities they engage in. They are also engrossed in many indoor activities controlled by technology, which limits the creation of one’s legacy from childhood.