The march of progress, traditionally depicting a compressed presentation of 25 million years of human evolution, can be applied to sociologists view on childhood- is it ‘evolving’ for the better? The ‘March of progress’ view argues that, over the past few centuries, childhood in western societies has been improving steadily, and is even better than ever today. We can then go onto say that the ‘march of progress’ evidently paints a bad picture of the past; as Lloyd De Mause puts it- “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only begun to awaken.
The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of childcare, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorised and sexually abused. ” Writers like Aries and Shorter look on from this dark past, and hold to the belief that children are more valued, better cared for, protected & educated, enjoy better health and have a lot more rights than previous generations. On the other hand, certain sociologists would disagree with this; for example, Sue Palmers.
Her view uplifts the concept of “The Five Finger Exercise”; the belief that ‘language, love, education, play & discipline’ are what children crucially need for healthy development. In her opinion, children in the UK today are going through, what she calls, ‘toxic childhood’- in the past 25 years, children’s physical, emotional and academic development have been effected and damaged by rapid technological and cultural changes. These ‘changes’ include emphasis on testing in education, computer games, junk food, intensive marketing on children, even the long hours parents work.
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All of these factors (which weren’t as dominant in society, in the past) have negative effects i. e. an increase in child obesity. Neil Postman has a similar negative opinion on childhood- he stated that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’. In contrast to Palmers opinion that children are being affected by rapid technological and cultural changes, Postman believes the disappearance of childhood is down to young people being given the same rights as adults. Similarities in the way children and adults dress, the decrease of traditional unsupervised games, ven rare cases of children committing ‘adults crimes’, such as murder. Also, as education intensifies, young people will be able to enter the adult world at an earlier age, rapidly increasing the disappearance of childhood. Though Iona Opie argues that this is not true that childhood is not disappearing; she believes there is still evidence that childhood culture exists, based on a lifetime of research into children’s games, rhymes and songs (led by herself and her husband, Peter Opie).
Contradictory to Postman’s findings, Opie came to the conclusion that children can, and do, create their own independent culture which is separate from that of adults. Child liberations argue against both Palmers and Postman- they argue that western ideas of childhood are being globalised (far from disappearing). International humanitarian and welfare agencies have imposed western norms on the world, of what childhood should be- a separate life stage, based in the nuclear family and school, where children are innocent, dependant & vulnerable and have no economic role.
Therefore, childhood is far from disappearing, but western notions are simply being globalised. For example, anti child labour campaigns, or concerns about ‘street children’ in less economically developed countries, reflect western ideas of what childhood is ‘ought’ to be like. Though this kind of activity could be the norm for children in that specific culture; possibly important preparation for adult life in their society. So in this view, childhood isn’t ‘disappearing’, but it is spreading across the world.
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