The Defining of Childhood

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Childhood is difficult to define because there any many variables involved, which can affect the outcome. Society gauges one’s social graces by one’s exact age and expects certain norms for specific ages. Historical era plays a great part in defining who a person is and within each era one’s social class and geographical location also varied one’s development.
Going back in time to the pre-civil war era, we clearly begin to see three classes of American society: the wealthy planation family, the middle class family, and the slave family. On a typical southern plantation, the older slave children had the daily task of watching over and caring for the younger children, while their parents labored in the fields. The elderly slaves, who were no longer physically able to work prolonged hours in heat, supervised the children and worked in the plantation owners’ house. According the textbook, when the plantation owners’ children played with the slave children “white children often took the role of master of the plantation or overseer of slave workers in their play,” imitating the adult social classes. In addition, the slave children reveled in getting the upper hand and proving themselves to be better than the pompous plantation children. (Corsaro, 81). At first, I was surprised to learn that the plantation owners’ children would play with the slave children; however, taking into consideration that plantations were separated by miles and miles of land, the white children’s only possible playmates/friends were the slave children. By the age of eight or nine, slave children assisted their parents in the fields especially during harvest time. This is the time in which the distinction between the elite and the slave came to fruition. Now t...

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...eighteen-year-olds. However, as Ariès mentioned, “in the sixteenth century… a child of seven years might still be considered an ‘infant’ and a man of forty might still be considered a ‘youth’” (handout, 2). Therefore, just because an eighteen-year-old man is now recognized as an adult by the government this doesn’t mean that he is automatically responsible and wise. Through personal experience, I can attest that some teenagers have more maturity than some adults in their thirties or forties.
Through the years, the definition of childhood has changed due to the various factors that impact it. Historical era is a significant determinator, but one’s social class and geographical location also defines one’s characteristics.

Works Cited

Corsaro, William A. The Sociology of Childhood (Third Edition) 2011. Sage Publications. Chapters 1-4.

Philippe Ariès (handout)
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