Childhood is a culturally determined social construct that might be thought of as a set of expectations for children. The principal dynamic in the history of childhood involves changes in these expectations. The history of childhood can be organized around three fundamental concepts: socialization, maturation, and modernization. Socialization is the process whereby a child incorporates the principal elements of the culture into which she or he is born. Maturation is the biological process of growing up. Modernization is the large-scale transformation of economies and societies—of European countries first, and then others. This process includes industrialization, urbanization, and the expansion of capitalistic systems of economic organization. The most dramatic changes in socialization and maturation of children come from the impact of modernization.
In traditional societies, socialization usually took place within families at a gradual pace and in informal ways. Sons learned the skills and practices of adult males by working alongside their fathers. Similarly, daughters worked and learned in close contact with their mothers. In the modern world, new agencies such as schools appeared and became part of the socialization process; and the process of maturation, formerly a natural process marked, perhaps, by rites of passage from youth to adulthood, now became the focus of serious social thought and practice. Put another way, maturation has been redefined in the modern age as a time of
"identity crisis" for youth. In the modern age, youths have a greater range of choices for adult roles than did their ancestors.
The pioneering work in the history of childhood is L'Enfant et la vie familiale sous l'ancien régime, published by Philippe Ariès in 1960 (and translated into English as Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life ). Ariès not only wrote one of the first modern scholarly treatments of the history of childhood, he also made the central point that childhood is socially constructed; that is, that ideas about and expectations for children are determined by social leaders and experts (advice-givers). Another early writer on the history of childhood, Lloyd deMause, in a work titled The History of Childhood, argued that "The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused" (p. 1). Professional historians have modified the views of Aries and deMause as they have developed deeper knowledge of the ways earlier societies regarded and treated children. The lasting importance of both scholars is that they founded the field of history of childhood and stimulated others to further investigations and revisions.
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