Social attitudes towards children started to essentially change with the introduction of the Factory Acts (1819) which released children from mines and factories and the introduction of mass education in 1870. Better standards of living and nutrition also lead to decreasing infant mortality rate. Such changes didn’t necessarily result in a more child-centred society. The state’s decision to ban children from mines and educate them had more to do with need to increase the capability of the workforce by making them more numerate and literate.
This was because of the need to teach them moral compliance and the contraction in the number of jobs available because of recession and technology.
There is significant evidence that children were treated crudely throughout this period. Child prostitution and abuse were common whilst the age of sexual consent was not raised to 16 until the late 19th century. However, the development of the nuclear family in the Twentieth-century as a more child-centred family and the fact that childhood and adolescence were now seen as separate categories from adulthood, which helped to change these attitudes.
Children are seen to be in need of special care and guardianship whereas teenagers are susceptible to a range of social and cultural controls.
Concern that the rights of children are seen in changes in state policy towards children since the Second World War. E.g. The state has extended the amount of time children spend in Education. The state also emphasised the needs and protection of children at the expense of the rights of parents.
E.g. the 1980 Child Care Act gives importance to the “wishes and feelings of child”. The Support Act (1991) re-emphasises that the principal concern of the state should be the child. Recent emphasis put the importance of the authorities listening to what children themselves say about experiences and necessity. They stress that there should be a partnership between local authorities and parents to protect the welfare of children. Some children have recently used the Act to divorce their parents. Others have also “forced” separate parents to see them more.
The 20th century is seen as the century of the child in the UK. Social attitudes towards children continue to be positive. Children are seen to be in need of society’s protection, although society in the form of the mass media is often seen as threat to psychological well being of children. The responsibility of children is firmly located in the family and supported by the state in terms of legislation. Women in particular are largely viewed responsible for children’s welfare. Sociology of childhood is surprisingly lacking in research about Experiences.
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