Childhood in the west is a complex history. Childhood is defined as a condition expressed by powerlessness and dependence on the mature community’s directives and guidance. On the other hand, a child is an existing human being between the stages of birth and puberty. A child who is below the age of attaining the full physical development or one who is below the legal age of maturity in a particular society. In the early days, different scholars tried to explain childhood based on religion, beliefs and public scrutiny and interpretation. Some described a child as a bearer of an immortal soul and was highly susceptible to influence (Cook, 2004). Children’s culture has often been primarily an issue of culture produced for children and the children being pushed to it. Culture is the repository of social education and socialization, the way through which societies preserve and strengthen their place in the world. Children’s cultural expression is highly bound by the community’s social beliefs and cultural practices. Children’s culture is often modulated with social motives.
This does not mean that children do not create and express themselves dependably, when children are playing together, impulsive acts of self-expression occur. However, even children play is more of a result of learning and cultural orientation of guardians or parents. Even if parents realize and accept the need for a child’s imagination, creativity and self-expression, that realization exist under the wings of a very directive idea of socializing purpose.
Present society’s interest with the children’s culture, and with the physical elements that define children’s maturation, is probably one of the very significant inventions of the industrial era. In the early days, children were fully assimilated into the daily activities of the society.
They were part and parcel of making and consuming in the society. They did not have autonomy, privileges or a separate class on their own. These changes are mostly based on an outline of legal and social structures that have formed Children’s rights and entitlements. This expound upon legal definitions which were initially brought out in England in the cruelty acts of 1889. This legislation stretched to children the exact protection from mistreatment and abuse as was granted to animals under the earlier cruelty-to-animals legislation. It was during the twentieth century that children’s legislation started to stretch and expound on children’s property human rights. This legislation also applied new principles that protected children from the common law; this was with the inclusion of the disputing exemption from the matured criminal justice system. This was based on the argument that due to their young age children were ‘incapable of a guilty mind’ (Kline, 1993).
In the factory acts of England 1802 the notion that children were simply the assets of their parents began to be challenged. This was to curb the abuse of children by managers who used children as a cheap source of labor. In the nineteenth century, a strong concept came to succeed as the dominant view of child growth and development. The idea was that children are guiltless beings who require formation and learning, to be shielded from the tough realities of industrial society.
The notion of the children’s family and school acting as socializing agencies, that is,( as means of conscious trials to shape and mold the siblings into civilized human beings by coordinating their learning and social experiences) gains its full force specifically during the strong times of upheaval. In feudal society, the family did not only act as a vehicle of organizing life; it was fundamental to passing on of property and power. The undoing of this idea of lineage preceded the acceptance and incorporation of children’s rights in the society. It was in this light that child labor laws and factory acts were introduced. These laws were aimed at reducing the cases of parents pressuring their children into work. It was also aimed at limiting the cruel and abusive treatment practices on the children in the industrial work place. Not directly expressed was the changed attitude towards childhood. There was a continuous move away from the concept of control towards an approach that tried to instill models of controlling oneself in children.
A play toy in a children’s life is very important, it is a cultural signifier. It conveys not only the obvious preoccupations of children with play but also their developing experiences with most of the things. The toy represents a world different from process and social interactions of work. This serves as a means of isolating the children and buffering them from a tough industrial reality that is within the core of depictions of the children’s preoccupations. The youngster with a toy is a representation of the benefits of consumerism, of the exciting object particularly meant for leisure and fantasy (Kline, 1993).
In the 1930s there was recognition of the value of child’s evolving stature in the family. Most of the parents were hit with anxiety and concern on how to relate with their siblings. They did not know how to control and direct the plenty energies, imaginations and creativity of their children. Most of the times mothers complained about their lack of control on their children’s lives. It even reached a time when experts had to intervene to advise the troubled mothers and help them resolve their sense of insecurity. Parents were in dispute over the appropriate means to tackle their troubled times of childrearing.
When the television was viewed as an important means of communicating with the children, parents were still questioning the credibility of this idea. Even though most of the parents did not report their measures to influence youngsters watching of television, the positive aspect of television for the family was denied by the minority. Television preoccupied the children and captured their interests, therefore, the adults had sometime for their own. Despite the little worries, they had about the children watching the television too much they also appreciated in some ways.
In conclusion, children in the west were at first seen as assets for their progenitors. Children were taken as assets which could be controlled according to the wish of their guardians. They were viewed as a source of labor and were at some point treated as servants in their own homes and in the industrial places. Over the years, their places in the society changed and they were slowly viewed in a different manner. They were given privileges, exempted from some issues, and some laws were put in place to protect them. Social cultural teachings changed from depicting children as objects to be controlled to persons of self-control.
Cook, D. T. (2004). The commodification of childhood: the children's clothing industry and the rise of the child consumer. Durham: Duke University Press.
Kline, S. (1993). Out of the garden: toys, TV, and children's culture in the age of marketing. London: Verso