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Chapter 1

Children in Canada Today: Chapter 1 Summary

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Social Science
SOSC 1800
Shirley Ramsarran

Children in Canada Today: Chapter 1 Summary Introduction: Children exist in every society – obviously Terms „child‟, „children‟, and the concept of when „childhood‟ begins and ends varies among different cultures, time periods, and even between difference organizations and institutions within the same societies The concepts of children and childhood are social constructions o Meaning, they‟re social creations, subject to redefinition by the society or culture o This notion is supported when we consider questions such as: at what age can a child stay home alone? What age can a child legally consent to engaging in intercourse? At what age do children stop receiving the child tax benefit? At what age can a young person skip classes without parental consent or drop out of school? Within a given time period and geographic region, there are differing philosophical approaches to understanding children and childhood Children of different genders, races, and social class backgrounds will experience childhood differently Defining Children and Childhood Today: Little consensus in how child, childhood, and children are defined today 2006 Canadian Consensus Dictionary says that children means offspring of any age, residing with their parents (or grandparents) with a qualification: the offspring‟s child(ren) and/or spouse-partner cannot be living in the same (parental) home o By this definition, being a child has nothing to do with physical maturation, chronological age, or level of maturity o Has to do with nature of living arrangement  May have something to do with notion of (inter)dependency  Holds notion that economic adulthood begins with moving out of o9ne‟s parental home and/or having and residing with a partner and/or child of one‟s own Canada‟s Criminal Code provides another definition stating that a child is anyone under the chronological age of 14 – likely due to normative trends in physical maturation and level of maturity o Children under the age of 14 cannot legally consent to sexual activity o Youth between ages of 14-17 cannot legally consent to sexual activity with anyone who is in a position of trust or authority to them In another section of the Criminal Code, child pornography refers to any written, audio and/or visual representations of „a person who is or is depicted as being under 18 years of age and is depicted as being engaged in any explicit sexual activity‟ o In this definition, we see focus on chronological age or appearance to be of a chronological age, not physical maturation or level of maturity Many of our current definitions of child have to do with parental rights and obligations towards their children, and on this front, things should be clearer – parents should be responsible for their until they reach the age of 16? 18? 19? o Even this definition varies On the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website it states that parents in Canada have a legal duty to provide their children with the necessities of life until they reach the age of 16 o However, in the Ontario Child and Family Services Act defines child as a person under the age of 18 years (age of majority, which in this province is 18, in most others it is as well, in BC it‟s 19) It has been argued that the notion of childhood until the age of 18 and childhood being a time of play and preparation for adulthood largely reflects Western ideals Recap: what is meant by „child‟ varies based on chronological age, on level of maturity, and in reference to physical maturation or economic dependency. At the same time, our definitions largely reflect Western assumptions about ability, power, autonomy, and dependency o Definitions also tell us that the larger or narrower slice of time over the life course that has come to be known as childhood is socially constructed, and the experiences, behaviour and expectations attached to this life period come to be seen as characteristic of childhood in ways that also vary over time and across cultures Understanding Variations in Childhood Over Time Childhood as we now it or currently define it, even with its institutional variations has not been around for very long It almost always takes on distinct forms with: o sets of expectations and experiences that depend on the economic organization of the society (hunting and gathering, agricultural or industrial); o the socio-economic class and/or social status of the families under study; o and the historical period/epoch of the society under study (classical/post-classical, pre-modern/modern)  Ex. You would expect the experiences of children living in Ancient Greece to differ from those living in modern Greece  You‟d also expect there to be differences on gender lines We will now begin to look at the ways in which childhood has been studied and some of the challenges associated with these diverse approaches A great deal of research focuses on children and childhood experiences and treatment of children in particular societies, in particular times o Ex. Haas writes about childhood in Renaissance Florence, Davin focuses on modern urban China, and Kojima studies children and childhood in seventeenth- century Japan While having a clearly defined historical focus is key to understanding childhood at a particular time, it‟s also important to recognize the diversity of childhood experiences within the same time period. o I.e. Children living within the same time period and society may experience childhood differently due to class, family status, gender, etc. Another approach to studying children is the „World History Approach” o Tries to capture the big picture o More complex, involves paying attention to the major changes and continuities in the concept of childhood o Must be aware of commonalities and differences across societies and a relatively wide understanding of both global and regional trends and details, which are necessary to avoid making over-generalizations Regardless of the approach, studying children and childhood is difficult o Typically when studying people of the past, historians construct history through the analysis of personal documents (letters, diaries, photographs and paintings, autobiographies, oral narratives recorded by someone else, etc.), official and unofficial records, (court records and laws; religious documents and records; coroner‟s reports, church registries of births, marriages and deaths; wills, ship‟s logs; etc.), and by studying social artifacts or material objects people and groups leave behind o Children themselves leave behind very few direct records Like many adults living in the past, „average‟ children for the most part were illiterate, and could not write about their own experiences They tended to live less public lives and were much less likely than adults to appear in court cases, newspaper accounts, or other public documents Some of their material culture (toys, games, cribs, clothing) survives, depending on the period of study, but may also have been misinterpreted, misread, or misunderstood While we may know about how particular individuals and groups in societies disciplined children (through laws, religious teachings and documents, court cases, letters, coroner‟s reports), we know little about how children experienced it When we think we know something, it often involves recollections by adults about how discipline was believed or remembered to have bee experienced, which is considerably different from how that person as s child actually experienced it While some adults have written elaborate and powerful literature about their childhoods, these memories may be unknowingly inaccurate o What and how they choose to retell may actually reflect more about their adult life than about their childhood o You may have experienced this when hearing your parents talk about you as a child – not quite how you remembered certain experiences Therefore, much of what we know about children is filtered through the images, experiences and ideas of adults o As a result, most children living in the past were silent or silenced by history and circumstance and we‟re left with a considerable amount of speculation about children and childhood One of greatest debates 1960s by Philippe Aries‟s book Centuries of Childhood. o He argued in Medieval times, societies did not recognize childhood as a distinct period in the life course o Only with passage of time and significant changes to the social order did we see the emergence of childhood Philippe Aries‟s „Discovery of Childhood‟ and His Critics Aries is recognized by some as one of the first, best-known, and most influential historians of childhood in the twentieth century He argue that „there was no place for childhood apart from adulthood‟ o He was trying to say that in the medieval period, childhood was not recognized apart from adulthood o He was not trying to say that children were neglected or despised, nor that they lived lives devoid of affection He also says that adults in the tenth and eleventh centuries simply did not devote much time or special attention to them, as evidenced by their absence, marginalization, and adult- like depictions in portraits and by their absence from the focus of religious festivals and celebrations o He says adults of the past must not have had a distinctive conception of childhood as a separate stage in life since children were not given special emotional or legal allowances and because they were depicted clothed as mini-adults or mingling with adults in everyday life for the purposes of work, relaxation, and sport There were also a lack of words in French and English to distinguish between children of different ages From this, Aries concluded that children were either relegated to the margins (of festivals, family portraits, etc.) or were fully integrated into the adult world because they were so much a part of adult life in work and leisure o According to this supposition of the medieval world‟s „indifference‟ towards childhood was that it gave children more latitude, less monitoring, and more autonomy The Development of „Childhood‟ Aries noted that at about the thirteenth century, images of children become available that are closer to the modern concept of childhood o He argued discovery of childhood made in thirteenth century, and we can see it evolve through art in fifteenth and sixteenth centuries o Evidence of its development became more plentiful and significant from the end of the sixteenth century and throughout the seventeenth o For Aries, 17 century = period of „development of childhood‟ o He explained changes were first seen among the upper classes th o Among the elite of 17 century Europe, there was a growing recognition of children‟s special need for attention, nurture and guidance accompanied by an increased attention to schooling o Birth rates began to drop, allowing parents the resources to pay more attention to individual children o The vocabulary relating to infancy appeared and expanded o He explained, that with the passage of time, a more formal distinction was made between childhood and adulthood, especially among the upper classes who could afford to protect children longer Class and Stearns note that Aries‟s work exerted a vast influence on historiography but his thesis was not always substantiated o For example, some medieval societies did have a view of childhood as unique and special o Class points to the writings of Jean Gerson, which suggested that parents pay more attention to their children‟s emotional needs and to Mapheus Veius, who reprimanded parents in his writing for being wrong in their assumption that physical
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