Servants, apprentices, knitters, chore doers, etc… were the norm of what one would call childhood before the 19th century. It was no surprise to be put under such a condition, even in the account of Abraham Lincoln, it was well known that his childhood is described as being a slave, a slave to his father. Making it unsurprising to why he never reached out to him during his final moments.
However, nothing remains the same and time simply pulls and pushes different and sometimes opposing novel reasonings. For a child was once seen as a small adult awaiting to have a full-grown body, currently such a concept has discontinued and the understanding of what childhood simply differs from its predecessor.
CHILD LABOR AND CHILDHOOD
Child Labor can be explained as the hiring of children to work for different professions considered as adult work such as working in the factory, chimneys, etc… So one would argue that childhood is an adult in a smaller and ungrown body.
Steven Mintz, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, explains childhood as “adult-structured, adult-supervised activities”. Nonetheless, he continues and asserts that what was once “adult-structured, adult-supervised activities” became “free, unstructured, outdoor play”. As such, childhood’s history can be seen as a history of liberation from what can be described as metaphorically an escape from the umbilical cord of what halted a childhood experience, who was the parent, making it harder to create an independent identity opposing to that of a mini adult. Furthermore, the functional object of a child was not solely seen as an extra hand that can be of assistance in different tasks but also an extra mouth to feed if such a child was not used for any particular purpose, making it a constraint on low social classes.
To note: readers might misunderstand my words of blaming parents for what was done to children. Although my thoughts do not blame parents particularly, however, the problem was the idea of what was correct parent action during those times was incorrect.
CHILDHOOD CHANGE AND A START OF EDUCATION
Developments and Reforms abolished child labor. Think about it as changing a 17th-century habit of teaching a child to be an adult and integrating them into adult farm labor versus a child who has been sheltered away from adult work and engaged with unique childhood activities and types of education. Furthermore, as laws and acts to abolish child labor were enacted, what was ensured is that every child must have some form of education/schooling, including an emphasis on good health in the form of better diets and an active outdoor lifestyle.
An exemplification of this can be seen in the Meiji Reforms in Japan, a reform which aims at restoring the imperial rule in Japan in 1868. Part of the reforms, however, was the establishment of a contemporary educational policy across all public schools in Japan. Such policies include the introduction of Western-style schools and the dedication of time during childhood to the reading of children’s books, playing with educational toys and schooling specifically aimed at different age groups.
Other reasons for changes to childhood are because of changes in parenting. Currently, our time is witnessing declines of birth rates, criminalization of child abuse and child labor, and the growing fear that any irreparable accident carried out on a child will lead to a lifelong punishment. As such, parents have become much more sensitive in comparison to preceding times.
THERE’S STILL MORE THAT HAS TO BE DONE
Geographically, there are still many countries and areas that witness child labor. Ideal childhood is being deprived of children from different parts of the world. Still, poverty and unemployment have pushed many low-income adults to utilize children as an object for monetary desires (without falling into any significant expenses and costs).
Furthermore, with more screen time and close parent to child supervision (lifestyle), the concept of a free and unstructured childhood loses its meaning and what is left is a “toxic childhood” as mentioned by researcher Sue Palmer. In a sense, you can’t blame the parents, for the primary inner state of the child is their central importance. Time constraints because of extended work hours in comparison to the past have caused the communication and bond between a child and parent to diminish. So, parents have become very sensitive to their children. That is why the greatest challenge for a parent is to be able to grant freedom the child deserves to have. Many of us have forgotten the notion of age-appropriate learning, which suggests that as a child grows, their brain capacity develops. As such, when you give a chance for a child … a chance for freedom, then the challenges they face become an experience and a confidence build-up that shapes them towards understanding themselves better.