Childhood as a Social Construction

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Childhood as a Social Construction
Childhood is such a universal feature of human life that we readily consider it a natural stage of development. After all, doesn't every society that's ever existed have some people identified as "children"?
As obvious as the answer to this question may seem, variations in culture and over time are dramatic. People in modern Western societies have a widely held, unquestioned belief that children are fundamentally different from adults. We take for granted that children areóand have always beenóinnocent and entitled to nurturing and protection. However, in other cultures (for example, Japan) children are viewed as much more independent creatures who can act willfully from the earliest moments of life.1
We tend to base our Western beliefs about the nature of childhood on biological considerations. Young children are thoroughly dependent on adults for their survival. Infants cannot feed themselves or take care of themselves in any way. A 10-month-old child, left on its own, will surely die within days. A human may remain dependent on his or her parents for several decades.
By contrast, other animal babies are much more self-sufficient. A newborn horse, for example, is able to gallop around when it is only a few minutes old.
To us, then, laws protecting innocent and defenseless children from dangers like exploitation at work, pornography, neglect, and abuse make sense. It seems inconceivable to us that the protection of innocent children is not a fundamental value in all societies, present and past.
But as you will see, childhood is not simply a biological stage of development. Rather it is a social category that emerges from the attitudes, beliefs, and values of particular societies at particular points in time,2 subject to changing definitions and expectations. Parental attachment to children, therefore, is less a function…...

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