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.