A long time ago, children were thought of as mini-adults. Childhood was not a concept that was understood. So when did children become children and what exactly does it mean to be a child?
It happened in the middle ages. It became necessary for middle class parents to train their children in a trade so that the family could have that extra income. During this period of apprenticeship, it became apparent that childhood was a distinct period of life. Before the twelfth century, there really was no definable period of life known as childhood.
The rise of the middle class and the education of children into a trade changed, or perhaps created, the modern definition of what it means to be a child.
Another significant shift that helped define childhood came about during the Industrial Revolution. Those in power at the time began to define and reinforce issues of privacy in order to secure a workforce. Thus, the privacy of home life, and the home as a place of retreat after a hard day of work was illustrated and reinforced. As such, the child became the centre of a family in a new way.
All of this led to the golden age of children’s literature, which spawned books written entirely for the entertainment of children. Which of course today has spawned into TV programs, video games, and all sorts of consumer products.
It seems that the definition of childhood has changed over the years. This definition varies by culture as well. Yet no one seems to question the modern definition of childhood. Maybe it is time we did. Childhood is ready for a redefinition. What do you think?