A 10 mark ‘analyse with item’ practice question and answer for the AQA’s A-level paper 2: families
Applying material from Item A, analyse two changes in the position of children in society over the last 100 years (10)
Parents today spend a great deal of time and money trying to make sure that their children enjoy a comfortable upbringing. They want their children to have opportunities that they themselves never had. ‘March of progress’ sociologists argue that these changes in family life have led to an improvement in the position of children in society.
How to answer this question?
It’s pretty obscure (IMO) but the item gives you TWO obvious ‘hooks’:
Time/ money/ comfortable upbringing which is pointing to ‘improving living standards’
Improved opportunities – education being the most obvious!
The above two should be your two points, analysed in both cases from the March of progress view (how have these improved the position of children), and to my mind this question is also screaming for you to evaluate each of these points (unlike the not item outline and explain 10 mark questions, you do get marks for evaluating in these ’10 mark with the item’ question.
You might like to review these two posts before attempting this question:
I advise developing each of the points below still further!
Point 1: As it says in item A, one change in children’s position in society is that parents spend more time and money on them, and so they have a more comfortable life… the average child now costs about £250K to raise, much more than 100 years ago.
Development – this is because of economic growth over the last 100 years, parents now earn more money and so are able to spend more on children’s toys and ‘educational experiences’ which can further child development; as well as more nutritional food, which means children are healthier.
Further development – parents are also more involved with the socialisation of their children; this is especially true of middle class parents who invest a lot time ‘injecting cultural capital’ into their children.
Further development – lying behind all of this is the fact that children are no longer seen as economic assets: they no longer have to work, but rather there has been a cultural shift in which children have rights and should be allowed a lengthy childhood in which they are cared for.
Evaluation – However there are critics of this ‘march of progress view’ – not all parents are able to afford products for their children (lone parents for example) which can create a sense of marginalisation; also there is a sense in which parents spend time with their kids because they are paranoid about their safety in a risk society – Frank Furedi for example argues that this might stifle child development by preventing them from becoming independent.
Point 2: The second social change which can be said to have improved the lives of children is improved opportunities for children – such as with the expansion of education.
Development – 100 years ago (early 19th century) schooling was only compulsory up until about the age of 14, and this was gradually extended through the decades until today children are expected to be in education or training until the age of 18.
Further Development – From a functionalist point of view, education is meritocratic today and so provides opportunities for all children to achieve qualifications and get jobs appropriate to their skills. Children also benefit from the secondary socialisation schools provide, which many uneducated parents may not be able to provide effectively. We now have National Curriculum which ensures all children learn maths English and a broad range of other subjects
Further development – The expansion of education has been combined with the expansion of child welfare more generally – so schools are about improving child well being and safety more generally, meaning children have more opportunities to escape abuse than in the past.
Evaluation – However, from a Marxist point of view, not everyone has the same opportunities in school, and from a Feminist perspective gendered socialisation and stereotyping in school means that girls do not have equality of opportunity with boys.
A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle
A summary of Neil Postman’s theory with supporting evidence and criticisms.
There is an argument that childhood as we know it is disappearing with the the distinction between adulthood and childhood narrowing. Neil Postman (1994) argued that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’.
As supporting evidence Postman looked at the trend towards giving children the same rights as adults, the growing similarity of adult and children’s clothing and even cases of children committing ‘adult crimes’ such as murder and rape.
Postman’s theory is based on the view that communications technology is the primary thing which shapes society.
Following Aries, he suggested that in the middle ages most people were illiterate (they couldn’t read or write) and speech was the main form of communicating, thus there was hardly any distinction between adults and children.
Postman argues that childhood emerged along with mass literacy. This was because the printed word created a division between those that could read (adults) and those that couldn’t (children). This division emerged because it takes several years to master reading and writing skills, and those years of ‘not being able to read and years spent learning to read and write’ became the childhood years.
HOWEVER, Postman argues that in contemporary society, new technologies like television and the internet blur this separation and that children are now much more able to access the ‘adult world’. As a result, childhood as we know it is disappearing.
The disappearance of childhood: supporting evidence
Some examples which may support the view that the boundary between adulthood and childhood are disappearing include:
Children now spend a lot more time online without parental supervision. This means they are more exposed to adult themes at a younger age. Sue Palmer’s work on Toxic Childhood generally supports this.
The ‘Learner Voice’ in education. There is more of an expectation that adult teachers will listen to their students and consider their needs. Children are even being used on interview panels for new teachers in some schools.
Children have the same rights as adults (The UN’s rights of the child)
The growth of ‘Kidults’ means adults becoming more like children. One aspect of this is younger adults spending longer living with their parents.
The Workout Kid
The Work-out Kid is one example which suggests childhood may be disappearing…
Criticisms of the theory that childhood is disappearing
Jenks (2005) suggests that while there are increased concerns among parents about the impacts technologies such as the internet are having on children, this hasn’t resulted in the disappearance of childhood as such.
Rather, such technological changes have led to parents thinking children and childhood need to be more protected that ever – as evidenced in the increase Paranoid Parenting and social policies surrounding safeguarding.
However, conflict theorists argue that this view is too rose tinted. It ignores the fact that there are significant inequalities between children. Social policies designed to benefit children have not helped all children equally.
We can point to at least the following significant inequalities between children…
income based inequalities
gender based inequalities
Inequalities related to ethnicity
Inequalities in child protection services.
The effects of income inequalities on child development
Nearly 80% of children from the richest fifth of households are read to daily at age 3, compared to only 40% of children from the poorest fifth of households (2).
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (1) these inequalities which start at home persist through education:
Only 57% of English pupils eligible for free school meals reached a good level of development at the end of Reception in 2019, compared with 74% of their better-off peers.
Only 40% of disadvantaged pupils go on to earn good GCSEs in English and maths compared to 60% of the better-off students.
Ten years after GCSEs, just over 50% of the richest fifth of students have graduated from university compared to fewer than 20% of the poorest fifth of students
Gender inequalities in childhood
Girls suffer more problems in childhood than boys
In the year ending March 2019, the CSEW (3) estimated that women were around three times as likely as men to have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 16 years (11.5% compared with 3.5%).
Some more historical evidence shows that girls have to negotiate the psychological pressures of ‘objectification’ much more than boys:
A 2016 survey found that 29% of girls reported having experienced unwanted sexual touching in school.
The same report found that 70% of girls and boys reported hearing on a regular basis words such as ‘slag’ or ‘slut’ to shame girls
A 2007 survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ – they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat.
A 2009 survey found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. – Youngpoll.com
16% of 15 -17 year old girls have avoided going to school because they were worried about their appearance
One further consequence of objectification is that girls face sexual abuse from boys. (nspcc)
Ethnic inequalities in childhood
Exclusion rates are higher for White Gypsy and Roma pupils (0.39%), Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils (0.27%), Black Caribbean pupils (0.25%) and Mixed White and Black Caribbean children (0.24%) (4).
Based on a recent poll of 400 BAME teachers, 54% said they had experienced actions they believed were demeaning to them because of their ethnicity. (4)
Child Protection services fail to protect many children from harm
The most horrific example of this is from the town of Rotherham where gangs of Asian men groomed, abused and trafficked 1400 children while police were contemptuous of the victims and the council ignored what was going on, in spite of years of warnings and reports about what was happening.
A recent report commissioned by the council, covering 1997 to 2013, detailed cases where children as young as 11 had been raped by a number of different men, abducted, beaten and trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England to continue the abuse.
It said that three reports from 2002 to 2006 highlighted the extent of child exploitation and links to wider criminality but nothing was done, with the findings either suppressed or simply ignored. Police failed to act on the crimes and treated the victims with contempt and deemed that they were “undesirables” not worthy of protection.
Examples include more screen time, less outdoor play, and more anxiety.
Toxic Childhood is where rapid technological and cultural changes cause psychological and physical damage to children
The concept of Toxic Childhood is one of the main criticisms of the March of Progress view of chilhood. It is especially critical of the idea that more education and products for children are necessarily good for them.
In the book, Palmer argues that a toxic mix of technological and cultural changes are having a negative impact on the development of a growing number of children, and she outlines six main ways in which childhood has become increasingly toxic over the years.
Six examples of toxic childhood
A few years ago Sue Palmer’s Web Site had a very clear summary of six social changes which were damaging children’s early development, listed below….
The decline of outdoor play – linked to increased childhood obesity.
The commercialisation of childhood – linked to children being exploited by advertisers.
The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood – which reduces independence.
The decline of listening, language and communication skills – because of shortened attention spans.
Screen saturation – reduces face to face interaction.
Tests, targets and education – increases anxiety among children.
Below I summarise some of the ways aspects of childhood today may still be toxic!
The decline of outdoor play
According to Early Years Matters play underpins every aspect of children’s development. Children develop intellectual, language, social, emotional, and creative skills through play.
It is through play that children explore the world around them, take risks and develop their imaginations.
However outdoor play for children has declined significantly in the last decades. Save the Children recently reported that only 27% of children play outside regularly. This compares to 80% 55-64 olds when they were children.
Outdoor play generally provides children with more freedom than indoor play, allowing children to develop a greater sense of independence and self-reliance than with indoor play which is altogether more controlled and monitored by adults.
The decline of outdoor play also means children are getting less exercise today and it is correlated with increasing childhood obesity. It could also be having a detrimental impact of children’s mental health.
According the interactionist theory of socialisation play is central to the development of the self in childhood. So the decline in outdoor play may even be preventing children from becoming fully social beings.
The commercialisation of childhood
Childhood has become increasingly commercialised over the last few decades. This is where children are turned into consumers from early years into their teens. This is achieved mainly through advertising products and brands to children through television and more recently social media.
While the number of adverts children watch on television has decreased since 2013, social media is a different story.
With such marketing techniques children may not even be aware they are victims of commercialisation.
The ‘schoolification’ of early childhood
Childhood has become increasingly regulated and there is an expectation that children should always be learning at a standardised pace to keep up with ‘ordinary’ child development.
For example the baby centre has milestone charts for children in different age brackets outlining what most, half, and ‘advanced’ children can do by certain ages.
There is thus more pressure on parents and child carers to be teaching language, numeracy, or motor skills to very young pre-school children rather than just allowing them freedom to explore and enjoy their childhoods.
Combined with the above point this means we are setting more and more targets but children are just failing to reach them. This will then probably mean more catching up in school rather than modifying the targets.
All together we seem to have constructed a set of rules for children than sets many of them up to be failures from a young age.
One study (reported 2020) based on a sample of 3000 10-16 year olds found that half of them were online for more than 5 hours a day.
However the study above finds mixed results for the positive or negative consequences of increased screen time on child development, physical health and mental well-being.
Tests, targets and education
Marketisation from 1988 has greatly increased the role of testing in schools. This has led to a narrowing of the curriculum as more time is spent on teaching children to jump through the hoops required to pass exams.
More testing and exam pressure is also correlated with increasing anxiety among children.
More Recent Books on Toxic Childhood
Sue Palmer has published two more books, focusing on boys, in 2007, and on girls, in 2014.
Toxic Childhood: Criticisms
There are several criticisms of the view that childhood has become increasingly toxic:
This could be an example of an adult ‘panicking’ about technological changes, maybe children are more adaptable than Palmer thinks?
Taking the longer term view, childhood may well be more commercialised today, but surely children are better off today as consumers rather than producers (child labourers)?
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.
Palmer’s Web Site used to be well organised, and used to have a lot of links to recent research on Toxic Childhood..
Unfortunately the and the free information (arguably like childhood) has disappeared, and it now just links to her books, which you have to pay for. (I guess times are hard for adults as well as children, especially when you’re used to a headteacher’s salary!)
Having said that some of her most recent books on child development and education are worth a read. Her most recent publication argues for raising the school starting age to seven!
This material is relevant to the families and households module, usually taught in the first year of A-level sociology.
The ideas we have about childhood are created by society rather than determined by biological age.
Sociologists say that ‘childhood is socially constructed’. This means the ideas we have about childhood are created by society, rather than being determined by the biological age of a ‘child’.
Some of the aspects of childhood which are influenced by society include:
The length of childhood and the moment a child becomes an adult
The status of children in society – their rights and responsibilities, what legal protections/ restrictions we place on them
The general ideas we have about children: for example whether we think they are innocent and in need of protection, or resilient and in need of freedom to explore and develop by themselves.
This post explores some of the evidence for the view that ‘childhood is socially constructed’.
What is Childhood?
Childhood, ‘the state of being a child’ is often defined in contrast to adulthood.
For example, the Cambridge English dictionary defines a child’ as ‘a boy or girl from time of birth until he or she is an adult’.
More usefully (IMO) The Oxford English dictionary defines a child as a young human being below the age of puberty, or below the age of a legal majority.
Taken together these two definitions show us that childhood can be either biologically determined, ending when someone reaches their biological age of puberty, or it can be socially determined, ending when society says someone is an adult.
In Modern Britain, society determines when childhood ends and that age is currently set at 18, when an individual reaches the age of ‘legal entitlement’.
However, children do not just suddenly become adults at the age of 18. In Britain there is also a very lengthy transition from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood. Children gradually pick up certain ‘legal entitlements’ as they progress through their teenage years.
For example, children can work from the age of 14, the age of sexual consent is at 16, and the age at which they can drive is 17.
The fact that society determines the age at which childhood ends is part of the reason why sociologists argue that ‘childhood is socially constructed’ – ‘socially constructed’ simply means created by society (rather than by biology).
Ideas associated with childhood
There are a lot of ideas associated with childhood, and how it differs from adulthood. In Modern Britain we tend to think of children as being dependent, naive, innocent, vulnerable, and in need of protection from adults.
We tend to see children as having insufficient experience and knowledge to be able to make good decisions, and we also tend to see them as not being responsible for their actions.
The separation of childhood and adulthood
There seems to be near universal agreement that there are some fundamental differences between adults and children. For example people in most societies seem to agree that
1. Children are physically and psychologically immature compared to adults 2. Children are dependent on adults for a range of biological and emotional needs – Children need a lengthy process of socialisation which takes several years. 3. In contrast to adults, children are not competent to run their own lives and cannot be held responsible for their actions.
In contrast to the period of childhood, one of the defining characteristics of adulthood is that adults are biologically mature, are competent to run their own lives and are fully responsible for their actions.
However, despite broad agreement on the above, what people mean by childhood and the position children occupy is not fixed but differs across times, places and cultures. There is considerable variation in what people in different societies think about the place of children in society.
For this reason, Sociologists say that childhood is socially constructed. This means that childhood is something created and defined by society.
The social construction of childhood in modern British society
Part of the social construction of childhood in modern Britain is that we choose to have a high degree of separation between the spheres of childhood and adulthood. Add in details to the headings below.
1. There are child specific places where only children and ‘trusted adults’ are supposed to go, and thus children are relatively sheltered from adult life. 2. There are several laws preventing children from doing certain things which adults are allowed to do. 3. There are products specifically for children –which adults are not supposed to play with (although some of them do).
All of the above separations between adults and children have nothing to do with the biological differences between adults and children.
Children do not need to have ‘special places’ just for them, they do not need special laws protecting them, and neither do they need specific toys designed for them. We as a society have decided that these things are desirable for children, and thus we ‘construct childhood’ as a being very different to adulthood.
The Social Construction of Childhood – A Comparative Approach
A good way to illustrate the social construction of childhood is to take a comparative approach. We can look at how children are seen and treated in other times and places other than our own. Four fairly well-known examples of how childhood can vary in other countries include:
In some cultures children are seen as an ‘economic asset’ and expected to engage in paid work. In Less developed countries children are often seen as a source of cheap/free labour on the farm or in sweat shops where wages can boost family income.
22% of children aged 5 to 17 in the least developed countries are involved in some sort of labour. The percentage rises to 25% in much of Sub-Saharan, West, East, South and Central Africa.
Many adults in those countries don’t believe children should be in full time education until age 16 like in Western European Countries.
In conflict, typically young teenage boys may be recruited to fight, taking on very serious adult responsibilities several years younger than in ‘western’ societies.
Tens of thousands and children have been recruited as child soldiers, mainly in Western Africa and parts of the MIddle East. The United Nations estimates that almost 8000 children were newly recruited in 2019.
The countries estimated to have the most child soldiers are currently The Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It is mostly non-state groups which recruit children into their ranks.
Obviously the responsibilities that go along with being a soldier are severe, including risking one’s life. Those doing the recruiting don’t regard children as being in need of protection like people in the West do.
In the Least Developed Countries 11% of girls are married by the time they are 15, and 39% by the time they are 18.
39% of girls don’t have the gradual transition from childhood through youth to adulthood like most girls in Western European cultures do. Adulthood status has started by the age 18 for all of these now fully-fledged women.
In some cases young teenage girls are coerced into marriage without their consent, taking on the duties of a wife or mother younger than 18. This is well-documented in India and Ethiopia, for example.
In West Africa, thousands of girls and women have been enslaved by a practice called ‘trokosi’.
Girls as young as seven are given away by their family to pay for the sins of family members. They get forcibly shipped to a shrine, possibly in a foreign country, stripped of their identity, and forced to work as ‘servants of God’.
NB this isn’t to suggest that any of these conceptions are ‘equal’ to our conceptions of childhood in the west. The point is there are plenty of cultures where adults DO NOT think children are ‘in need of protection’ and so on. There are hundreds of millions of adults who believe that childhood should end earlier than 16-18.
Philippe Aries – A Radical View on The Social Construction of Childhood
The historian Philippe Aries has an extreme view on childhood as a social construction. He argues that in the Middle Ages (the 10th to the 13th century) ‘the idea of childhood did not exist’ – children were not seen as essentially different to adults like they are today.
Aries uses the following evidence to support his view…
Children were expected to work at a much earlier age.
The law often made no distinction between children and adults.
Works of art from the period often just depict children as small adults – they wear the same clothes and appear to work and play together.
In addition to the above Edward Shorter (1975) argues about parental attitudes to children in the Middle ages were very different from today.
High infant mortality rates encouraged indifference and neglect, especially towards infants.
Parents often neglected to give new born babies names – referring to them as ‘it’ and it was not uncommon to eventually give a new baby a name of a dead sibling.
Aries argues that it is only from the 13th century onwards that modern notions of childhood – the idea that childhood is a distinct phase of life from adulthood – begin to emerge. Essentially Aries is arguing that childhood as we understand it today is a relatively recent ‘invention’.
A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle