Notebook, 1993-

NOTES on: Child Development

Notes from: Zigler, Edward F. and Matia Finn-Stevensen, Yale University. Children, Development and Social Issues, D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, MA & Toronto, 1987.

The Concept of Childhood

Ideas about the nature of the child and concepts about what childhood entails are reflected in the way children are treated, in the concerns that we have for them, and in the policies that are created for their benefit.

In the Middle Ages there was a brief period of "infancy" which lasted until the age of 6 or 7 years. After that, the people we now refer to as children were simply assimilated into the adult world.

Before 1750 women could be expected to give birth to as many as ten or twelve infants, most of whom died at birth or in their early childhood years--about 2/3 before age five. Thus, with slim chances, emotional attachment was difficult to establish--and many who survived were abandoned in the streets and simply neglected. France & England instituted increasingly stricter penalties for infanticide. For every three births recorded in Paris, one baby was left in a foundling home (Kessen, 1965). Children in the orphanages did not fare that well. 90% died.

19th century. Conflicting views of childhood rooted in self-interest of adults. Religious leaders and middle-class parents were concerned with the moral redemption of the child--methods to "break the will" of children, an essential aspect of moral salvation. Though at times kind and rational in their interactions with children, adults generally believed that firm discipline would produce an upright citizen. Children of the poor, on the other hand, were regarded as economic assets and were exploited by their parents and by employers. Worked long hours, dreadful conditions, often died young.

It must be borne in mind that it is in this district [of England] that the regular hours of a full day's labor are 14 and occasionally 16; and the children have to walk a mile or two at night without changing their clothes....there are very few [mines]...where the main roadways exceed a yard in that in such places the youngest child cannot work without the most constrained posture. The ventilation, besides, in general is very bad, and the drainage worse...The ways are so low that only little boys can work in them, which they do naked and often in mud and water, dragging sledge-tubs by the girdle and chain." (From a speech by the Earl of Shaftesbury, June 7, 1842, as quoted in Kessen, 1965).

The exploitation was not as rampant in America as it was in Europe. Less than 20% of children under age 13 living in urban areas were employed during the latter part of the 19th cent. And the number decreased steadily during the early part of the 20th cent, and by the 1940s, only 1% of young children were employed. In many rural areas, however, children either assumed a great deal of work around the house or farm, or they were apprenticed or rented out to another farm for labor. With improvements in health care and medicine, the chances of children surviving improved, as did general interest in them. Child labor laws insured children did not work in factories and mines. Introduction of compulsory schooling signaled big change in attitudes toward children, too. A 1933 report of the U S Office of Education indicates that between 1870 and 1915 the total number of American pupils aged 5 to 17 increased from 7 to 20 million (White, 1982). Thus childhood became a period protected for learning. The uniqueness and separation of childhood as a special period is an unmistakable feature of our society (Larrabe, 1960) which has become increasingly more child-centered since the early 1900s.

The 20th century has been characterized by the definition of childhood as a special period of the life cycle (Larrabee, 1960). The 2 decades that followed the end of World War II were perhaps the greatest period of child-centerdness in our society. Very high birth rate--postwar baby boom. Strong child and family orientation was fueled in part by the persuasive arguments of researchers and childrearing experts such a Bowlby (1951) and Spock (1968) who wrote of importance of mother in child's life and of the pleasures of childrearing. Affluence of that time. Families could be sported by husband's income alone.

Since 1970s our society has moved away from its focus on the child and the family. Children are no longer adequately cared for, strong indications of a general devaluation of children and childrearing. Reported child abuse cases increasing yearly (Gerbner, Ross, & Zigler, 1980). Several social commentators and researchers who have studied the lives of children in the past 15-20 years contend that childhood, as we have come to regard it, is diminishing, meaning that children are once again living under conditions that threaten their well-being.

Biological Perspective
The inheritance of behavioral traits follows a multifactorial pattern that involves not only the action of many genes, but also an interaction between heredity and the environment.....

Both genetic predispositions and environmental experiences are now known to influence behavior . . . .

Environmental Perspective
It has become evident that the child is influenced by many factors--people in his immediate social setting (the family), the larger or more remote social systems such as the school, the community, the government, and even the mass media, most notably TV. The scope and rate of recent social changes in demography, the economy, and technology have contributed to pressures and stresses on family life and have made the nurturance of children difficult. American families are increasingly unable to cope with their problems, and the effects on children may be Significant. The new ways children are growing up today "promote a sense of insecurity that may lie behind a seemingly cheerful countenance. They often add (up) to a poor foundation for adult life." (Packard)

Our Endangered Children: Growing Up in a Changing World, Packard (1983) examines the actual setting in which a child is likely to grow up today and its impact on the child. Being young may mean, among other things:

The new ways children are growing up today "promote a sense of insecurity that may lie behind a seemingly cheerful countenance. They often add (up) to a poor foundation for adult life." (Packard)

Deep and far-reaching changes in the makeup and balance of our population (demography) Revolution in how women and men perceive their roles in their work and in their family life. Few children, a plethora of young adults and later marriages and later childbearing or no childbearing because of delay and infertility, and mounting numbers of older individuals--all related to Medical advances, economic costs of home and child-rearing, and awareness of overpopulation. every child today, or a child born in the years that lie just ahead, will be a scarce resource and a precious asset as an adult living in the next century.

Some Statistics:
There are ca. million divorces, involving ca. 3 million people, including children each year. Households characterized by greatly increased disorganization/disequilibrium and by marked changes in the management of children, including inconsistency of discipline and diminished communication and nurturance--experimentation with a variety of coping mechanisms, living arrangements, and relationships.

Continued litigation over the child serves a psychological need in a parent and often wards off a severe depression.

10% of American children under 18 live-in Step-families, Blended families, Reconstituted families, and new Extended families.

One in every 5 children and 1 in every 2 black children lives in a single-parent family--the majority headed by a woman with low or lower income than male segment of society. Thus, disturbing numbers of children in poverty. Often a transitional situation--but the interval can be 5-6 years of childhood. Task overload. Economically deprived. Difficulty disciplining children--children tend to exhibit less non-compliant and deviant behavior toward their father than toward their mother--the father can terminate undesirable behaviors that occur more readily than can the mother.... Depression or anger, and a negative definition of the self may result when the parent as protector--a source of nurturance and a teacher--the provider of structure and a sense of security and guidance--and the primary relationship--is stressed, depressed or unhappy. Children tend to share responsibility for family decision-making and for managing the household--may be the fostering of an early maturity. Can be advantageous for children who can learn to make decisions--but some responsibilities may be too complex for them to grasp, resulting in confusion and frustration.

More than half the children in this cntry have mothers who are working. Over 50% of mothers with children under 6 years of age are working full time. . Working mothers enable children to play a useful role in family life as well as provide them with new perceptions about the roles of men and women in our society. Can also be an emotional strain on the family life. Lack of adequate care that is available for children while their parents are working. Great deal of stress in trying to coordinate their work and child care arrangements. Anxiety about the job they do as parents. In the transition from an agrarian to an industrial and increasingly more technological society, and in the process of multiple moves from one job to another, many families no longer live near their kin, and they often do not have the experience, counsel, and support for child care they could once count on from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. No relative to count on--nor the neighbor, who also works. Reports indicate that an estimated two to seven million children between 7 and 12 years of age come home each day to an empty house. One sixth of all fires in a particular city involved an unattended child. Left along, they grow up scared--fears of break-ins and of accidents. Incidence of illness appears to be increased in the children of recently unemployed workers.

Numerous studies provide evidence that heavy viewing of television programs is consistently associated with aggressive behavior in children and adults. "The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces--although there is danger there--as in the behavior that it prevents: the talks, the games, the family festivities and arguments through which the child's learning takes place and through which his character is formed Turning on the television set can turn off the process that transforms children into people." (Bronfenbrenner, 1970) ....television as a medium of communication is fundamentally different from other media because as we watch television we remain essentially passive.

SO rapidly does the material on television come to us that there is not time to talk or to reflect on what we have just witnessed. Only in sports programs do we get the "instant replay" that allows us to go over the event and think about it for a moment, perhaps seeing some aspect of the event our eye did not focus on before.... In contrast, reading allows a person to read a sentence or a paragraph, pause and perhaps turn back to an earlier page, and take time to think and piece together the combination of words and images. Also, while reading, one has to translate words into images in the brain (in radio, too, we have to listen to words out of which we create pictures in our mind). Reading is more work, requires participation, and it enhances one's imagination....

TV viewing (which is a passive activity) may alter children's capacity for sustained attention and deliberate thought....textbooks today use fewer words to convey information and an increase in the use of illustrations and pictures (Tower et al., 1979),

From Problem to Solution: Addressing the Needs of Children
Children are spending less and less time with adults, are mostly alone or with their peers--watching television.... spend less than 2 hours a day with an adult other than a teacher,, meals are rarely eaten together as a family...greater dependency on their peers...influenced more by a lack of attention and concern at home than by an positive attraction of the peer group. Lonely. Stress related to financial security, housing, work, marriage and health problems.

Family Support Programs - programs which range from information and referral services for day care to parent education are often grass-roots, self-help programs initiated and supported by the people they serve. May be the wave of the future--apt to have a major impact on the health, development, and well-being of American families because the programs represent the solutions of families to their own problems.

The Role of Government - The effects of a curtailment of support in food stamps, health care, etc.

The Integration of Child Development Research and Social Policy - A blend in expertise and effectiveness.

The Role of Business and Industry - The family and the workplace. More relevant with the prevalence of working women and the single parent family. Worlds more interdependent and overlapping. A worker satisfaction and productivity have been found to be functions of family stability and other processes within the family system--thus it behooves the private sector to offer services and benefits that can help families. Time-sharing, maternity or paternity (?) leave with pay, day care centers, etc.

The Role of Advocates - Some individual or group must see to it that there is an awareness of the problem and that change will take is defined as acting in behalf of one's own interests, pleading the cause of others, and defending or maintaining a cause. Child advocates are not well organized in contrast to advocates who represent business concerns...there is often competition among groups representing different issues related to children....thus greater numbers and the formation of coalitions. Their role essentially is to monitor the conditions of children's lives and to see to it that changes are made to improve these conditions. Such changes often require government intervention. And - educating the general public as well as policymakers about the needs of children. They can provide the expert testimonies to government officials, and they can disseminate their findings from the research in child development not only in scholarly journals, but also in newspapers and magazines that are read by the majority of people.

Action for Children's Television - ACT. Has struggled with TV industry and policy-makers concerning types of programming, their scheduling, and the amount and type of advertising viewed by children.

[Notes from: Zigler, Edward F. and Matia Finn-Stevensen, Yale University. Children, Development and Social Issues, D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, MA & Toronto, 1987.]



The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only. The contents of this site may not be reproduced in any form without proper reference to Text, Author, Publisher, and Date of Publication [and page #s when suitable].