Assess the View that the Family has Become More Child Centred (20)

The view in the question is associated with the ‘March of Progress view’ of childhood – that society and the family have both become more child centred.

Child Centred Essay Plan.png

Four possible points for the view in the question

  • Point 1 – Child welfare policies protect children in the family – Laws prevent them from working, children MUST go to school, children have rights, social services can intervene if necessary. Evaluation – It is possible to interpret these laws as preventing the family from being more child centred – e.g. compulsory schooling.
  • Point 2 – Adults have fewer children – This enables them to spend more time with each child. The amount time parents spend with children has increased in recent decades. Evaluation – This is not true for all families – Many parents, especially fathers work long hours and cannot see their children.
  • Point 3 – Parents spend more time with their children. Analysis– Sociologists such as Furedi suggest this is a negative side of the ‘child centred’ family – Helicopter parents, cotton wool kids who are dependent and anxious – resulting in Kidults.
  • Point 4– Parents spend more money on their children. Evaluate using  inequalities/ Marxism.

Five Possible Points against the view in the question

  • Point 1 – Sue Palmer argues that the family isn’t child centred because of toxic childhood. This is where rapid social and technological changes have led to children being harmed – e.g. fast food/ computer games/ long hours worked by parents
  • Point 2 – Neil Postman argues that childhood is disappearing
  • Point 3 – Conflict theorists point out there is a ‘dark side’ of family life for some children.
  • Point 4 – Higher rates of divorce suggest the family is not child centred.
  • Point 5 – Changing roles for women suggests women are less focussed on their children. Evaluation – The New Right would suggest this is a negative development, but Feminists argue that this means positive role models for girls growing up with working mothers 

Conclusion

While parents and society like to think of the family as being more child centred, and where this is the case, it is not at all clear that this is a good thing. Moreover, there is considerable evidence that this is not the case – Changing women’s roles, new technologies, government polices all seem to work against child centredness. The view in the question is far from the last word on this topic.

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Toxic Childhood – Sociology In the News!

toxic-childhoodSue Palmer’s (2006) book Toxic Childhood argued that children were being harmed by a combination of technological and social changes such as increasingly screen based lifestyles, a hyper-competitive education system, the decline of outdoor play and the commercialisation of childhood.

Palmer argued that changes to childhood resulted in harms such as higher obesity levels, reduced concentration spans, and increasing mental health problems.

This recent Guardian article (December 2016) demonstrates the continued relevance of this book and the concept of Toxic Childhood –

A group of 40 leading authors, educationalists and child-development experts is calling on the government to introduce national guidelines on the use of screens, amid concern about the impact on children’s physical and mental health. Among them are the author Philip Pullman, and the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

Philip Pullman At London Zoo
Pullman – I guess he’d rather children read his books than watched the movie versions!

The letter calls for the development of kindergarten-style education for three- to seven-year-olds, with emphasis on social and emotional development and outdoor play; and says guidelines on screen-based technology for children up to 12 should be drawn up by recognised authorities on child health and development.

It is 10 years since the group sent its first letter to the media (inspired by Palmer’s book), expressing concern about the way it believes children’s health and well-being. Since then, they say, obesity and mental health problems among young people approaching crisis levels.

Sue Palmer, the author of Toxic Childhood, is among the letter’s signatories, she argues that “Without concerted action, our children’s physical and mental health will continue to deteriorate, with long-term results for UK society that are frankly unthinkable.”

Palmer says there are just two essential ingredients if children are to survive and thrive whatever the future brings: love and play.

sue-palmer
Sue Palmer – Author of Toxic Childhood – ‘all children need is love and play’

However, not everyone subscribes to the doom-laden view of modern childhood and the “toxic” environment in which children are growing up. Recent studies have suggested that screen-based technology can encourage reading in boys from low-income families and that there may be a positive link between computer games and academic performance.

Then again, Whitney Houston reminds us that ‘children are the Future’, which pretty much proves Palmer right….

 

Related links

Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting (the conflict view of childhood)

Sue Palmer.co.uk – used to be a great site on Toxic Childhood, but it’s currently under reconstruction (Dec 2016) – hopefully it’ll be just as straightforward when it resurfaces!

Is Childhood Disappearing?

There is an argument that childhood as we know is disappearing; that the distinction between adulthood and childhood is narrowing. Neil Postman (1994) argued that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’.

As supporting evidence he 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’ (murder, 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.

HOWEVER, he argues now that things 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.

Three pieces of supporting evidence for the disappearance of childhood –

  • Growth of the Internet/ Social Media means parents and children are becoming more equal
  • The ‘Learner Voice’ in education – and children being used on interview panels for some new teachers
  • Children having the same rights as adults (UN’s rights of the child)
  • ‘Kidults’ – adults becoming more like children!

Criticisms of the theory that childhood is disappearing

  • It’s more complex than just ‘disappearance – several trends going on at once
  • E.G. Children are more protected (labour and welfare laws)
  • E.G. Children are more controlled (cotton wool kids)

Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting: Criticisms of the March of Progress View of Childhood

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

toxic-childhood-bookOne 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.

Related Posts 

Toxic Childhood in The News

More Evidence of Toxic Childhood

Inequalities between children