The common sense view is to see the above changes as ‘progressive’. Most people would argue that now children are more protected that their lives are better, but is this actually the case? The ‘March of Progress’ view argues that yes, children’s lives have improved and they are now much better off than in the Victorian Era and the Middle Ages. They point to all the evidence on the previous page as just self-evidently indicating an improvement to children’s’ lives.
Conflict theorists argue against this view – they say that in some ways children’s lives are worse than they used to be. There are basically three main criticisms made of the march of progress view
1. Recent technological changes have resulted in significant harms to children – what Sociologist Sue Palmer refers to as Toxic Childhood.
2. Some sociologists argue that children today are too controlled. Sociologists such as Frank Furedi argue that children today are overprotected, or too controlled – We live in the age of ‘Paranoid Parenting’.
3. There are significant inequalities between children, so if there has been progress for some, there certainly has not been equal progress.
Toxic Childhood – Toxic Childhood is where rapid technological and cultural changes cause psychological and physical damage to children
One argument against the March of Progress View of Childhood comes from Sue Palmer, who argues that children today are experiencing a ‘toxic childhood’. She argues that a toxic mix of technological and cultural changes is having a negative impact on the development of a growing number of children. On her web site Sue Palmer outlines SIX WAYS in which childhood is toxic.
1. The decline of outdoor play – linked to increased childhood obesity
2. The commercialisation of childhood – linked to children being exploited by advertisers
3. The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood – reduces independence
4.The decline of listening, language and communication skills – because of shortened attention spans
5. Screen saturation – reduces face to face interaction
6.Tests, targets and education – increases anxiety amongst children.
Criticisms of the view that childhood has become increasingly toxic
- This could be an example of an adult ‘panicking’ about technological changes.
Children are better off today as consumers rather than producers (child labourers)
- Children are still very protected today – this view assumes children are delicate and in need of protection rather than resilient.
- This article by Catherine Bennett is worth a read – it reminds us that ‘in the good old days we just had to endure beatings’, although in fairness to Sue Palmer I don’t think she actually romanticizes the past, she’s really just pointing out the new and different problems children now face in a post-modern age.
Are Children Today Too Controlled? Paranoid Parenting
A second set of criticisms of the March of Progress View and The Child Centred Society is that children’s lives are now too controlled, that children have too little freedom, and that children are effectively oppressed by adults.
Conflict theories argue that many laws introduced in the name of ‘child protection’ are really about the oppression and control of children. Dianna Gittins uses the term ‘Age Patriarchy’ to refer to adult domination over children. Adult control over children takes a number of forms –
Control over resources – Labour laws and compulsory schooling make children financially dependent on adults. Shulamith Firestone sees protection from paid work as forcibly segregating children, making them powerless and dependent.
– Control over children’s space – There has been an increase in surveillance of children in public spaces. Take school as an example – Children are monitored more than ever through electronic registration systems, constant testing and nearly every school in the UK has surveillance cameras, with up to 10% of them having them in the toilets. Children are even more controlled in terms of their journey to and from school – In 1971 80% of 7-8 year olds when to school on their own, this had reduced to 10% by 1990.
– Control over children’s time – Parents restricts children through daily and weekly routines. Children today are given less time to themselves, with parents scheduling in more activities for them to do in evenings and weekends.
– Control over children’s bodies – Parents control how children dress and how they interact physically with other children and over their own bodies (don’t pick your nose, don’t slouch etc.).
– Evidence that children childhood as oppressive comes from the strategies they use to resist the status of child and the strategies that go with it. Two of these strategies are ‘acting up’ and ‘acting down’. Acting up is where a child acts older than they are in order to rebel. Acting down is where a child acts younger than they are as an act of rebellion.