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Concept of childhood Essay

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Break their will betimes: begin this great work before they can run alone, before they can speak plain, or perhaps speak at all … make him do as he is bid, if you whip him ten times running to effect it … Break his will now and his soul will live, and he will probably bless you to all eternity. (Wesley, quoted in Reader,Foley p. 28) It was not until the 18th century Western culture began to see a new view of childhood. Philosopher Rousseau in his largely influential book Emile published in 1972 wanted to protect the innocence of the child, believing it was the child’s right to be a child.

His writings seemed to suggest the first realization of the concept of childhood being a special time of life. Rousseau was a large influence of literature of this time as children begun to dominate art and literature, and ceased to become souls in need of salvation but childhood became synonymous with innocence. This idea existed in opposition to the older belief that children were instinctively sinful because of the Judeo – Christian belief of original sin and continues to be seen in both literature of 19th and 20th century.

In more recent times social construction has been defined by another theory; postmodernism. An important part of the postmodernism theory is the idea of ‘discourse’. Within postmodernism ‘discourse’ is taken to mean a whole set of interconnected ideas that work together in a self contained way, ideas that are held together by a particular ideology or view of the world… The term ‘discourse’ is also used to specify a particular ‘take’ on some phenomenon. The two images…

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the image of the ‘innocent and wholesome child’ and the image of the ‘wicked and sinful child’ can be seen as being based upon two different ‘discourses of childhood’. (Children in society p29) Although the two discourses within the postmodernism have two very different views on children and how they should be treated, they both share a common concept of ‘concern’ about children. This is a shared belief that adults do in fact have a responsibility towards children. However, they do not agree on what the actions of the adults are but do agree on action.

Theses two different discourses are defined as the discourse of welfare and the discourse of control. The discourse of welfare being based on the romantisization of childhood and the assumptions that children are entitled to a good child hood and are innocent and need protection from the adult world. The discourse of control is based on the theory of original sin and children should be controlled and disciplined. The two discourses in turn have influenced policy and practice towards children.

The discourse of welfare informs the Children’s Act 1989, which allows intervention where a child is seen to be at the risk of harm and the discourse of control informs education policy imposing compulsory education and strict regulation of the material being taught. Although the majority of time the two discourses can co exist well alongside each other conflicts can arise. Even though each discourse has its own set of professional bodies they can sometimes find the two competing discourses confusing and stressful and can leave employees sometimes failing.

This in turn is highlighted by the media and leaves the Government under immense pressure to tighten their policy and procedures leaving it even harder for workers within health and social care Even today childhood is not seen as a universal stage of human life. Variations over time and culture are dramatic. Historians such as Aries and Rousseau had a profound impact on Western society and their beliefs on childhood and how children should be perceived and treated. This in turn has shaped the policies and practices for those working with children and their families.

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