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To What Extent Has Children's Development Been Seen as a Social Process?

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The process of children's development changes depending on culture, personal or society's perspectives. This has been a continuous occurrence throughout history. Childhood is a social category and it defines activities they undertake or experiences they have at different times in their lives. Childhood also gives children their role and status within our community. The circumstances in which children grow up, the people they interact with and the beliefs and attitudes of those people can influence the way children develop to a certain degree. Four different lines of argument for children's development: development as control and discipline, development as natural stages, development as experience, and development as interaction can be looked at to conclude whether a child's development is predominantly a natural process of maturation, a result of environmental influences or is it an interaction between the two.

Whether childhood is a recent invention has been a fiercely debated issue through history. Phillipe Ariès was a historian who argued that "children were regarded as miniature adults" (Woodhead, 2005, p.18) up until the end of the fifteenth century in Western Europe. Ariès found no difference between children and adults in drawings and diaries from the medieval times due to the fact that they shared the same type of work and activities. Ariès felt that after the fifteenth century, children were seen as different from adults - he argued that this was due to a new image being portrayed of children showing that they had different needs and a special nature about them. Ariès' methods for gathering his views were criticised by other historians as they felt he was depending too much on resources that were biased towards the wealthy as the children that were painted or written about were not the poorest children in society.

Children in a poorer society have a long standing tradition of playing a functional role within a home which essentially meant that they were contributing to the household income through work and they were referred to as 'the useful child' (Woodhead, 2005, p.19). In the sixteenth century, children as young as 9 left the family to work as servants for the wealthy or to start an apprenticeship. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century children were working long hours in mines, quarries, workshops and factories at which time people started wondering whether working long hours would have a detrimental effect on the children's physical growth. Children received legal protection from exploitation within workplaces with the implementation of the Factory Act of 1833 (Woodhead, 2005, p.19). Children were expected to have time for playing and education regardless of their social class and as a result initiating them into the workplace became less of a priority for families. Childhood became an "extended phase of dependency, development and learning." (Woodhead, 2005, p. 19). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, "the useful child" has been a hotly debated subject especially as a large amount of children are subjected to child labour (Cunningham, 2003) and this is an image which the majority of western society are no longer accustomed to as the children in their society are in school for the majority of their time.

In 1833 with the the Factory Act being passed, part time schools were established and this enabled children to be a useful source of income for the family as well as gaining an education to improve their prospects for the future. The number of children attending schools was very low in the decade after the legislation was passed and if they did attend, they would probably have left by their tenth or eleventh birthday. In Britain this changed significantly by the end of the nineteenth century and school was an image and institution people associated with children without giving it a second thought. Previously, attending school was for the privileged and wealthy, whereas now all children were expected to spend their time in classroom learning. Children now had different lives to adults and were not part of the domestic routine or financial input at home as a 'norm'. There was now the adult world of work and the child's world of school.

Some theories of development have emphasised natural progression of development and in contrast there are other theories that emphasise more on external influences of experiences and learning. Social and cultural processes within a specific community can introduce their personal values on ways of thinking and behaving. Children themselves are also responsible for their development and are not passive agents in their childhood. They have ideas and beliefs of their own which influence their development. James and Prout stated that "childhood is ... constructed and reconstructed both for and by children" (James and Prout, 1997, p. 7) and this should be remembered when considering to what extent a child's development is a social process as they have an active role in their surroundings and interactions with others.

Development as control and discipline is a perspective that children are born with sin inside them and it has existed since the fourth century AD (Woodhead, 2005, p.30) in Christian circles. Christians were taught that children were naturally sinful and needed to be disciplined. Puritans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries "believed that children had to learn obedience to God through obedience to their parents" (Woodhead, 2005, p.30). Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, expanded on this view of a child's natural action to commit acts of sin which needed to be curtailed through thorough discipline. In the beginning of the nineteenth century this view was voiced by Hannah More - she believed that children should not be thought of as innocent but as human beings that are born with a natural evil inside them. Education was the answer to correcting this evil nature that children were born with (Woodhead, 2005, p 30). Theorists believed that children's nature was a very powerful thing and the way they act is predominantly down to natural impulses. Sigmund Freud believed that these impulses could only be controlled through developing the child's conscience which is carried out via the parent. The extent of children's development through control and discipline is something which may be effective while a child is in its early years and also as they transition through various stages. Contemplating that control and discipline is the most important



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