The Sociological Study of Children

Childhood as a structural form: it is a category or a part of society, like social class or age groups. There are two aspects of this concept.

  1. Children are therefore members of this category, and how this category is viewed, and defined will impact the members at the time they are part of this group. just as I am a 58 year old. And for children, this membership is a temporary period of their life course.
  2. For society, on the other hand, childhood is a permanent structural form or category that never disappears, but those in that category change. And, how childhood is defined and viewed changes over time.

Therefore is it fluid and dynamic.

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  1. as a structure of society, it is interrelated with other societal structures, such as social class, gender, ethnicity, etc. such that variation in these structures, will impact the nature of childhood.

For example: as the book states, changes in occupation or work, family, gender, and social class have resulted in an increase of women with children in the work force. Children are now spending a larger portion of their lives in institutional settings, such as day care centers and early childhood centers, which were not as prevalent in the past.

Within the discussion of the “sociology of childhood” then these two basic concepts are developed: children are a structural part of society, and they are active agents who construct their own cultures and contribute to society as a whole.

  1. Traditional Theories of Socialization: most of how childhood is viewed in sociology is derived from theoretical work on socialization: the processes by which children adapt to and internalize society. The focus has been on early socialization in the family-which views that child as internalizing society. The child is seen as separated from society, but must be guided and shaped, if you will, by external forces to become a functional member.

“The child as a blank slate.”

Two models have been proposed:

  1. a deterministic model: the child playing a basic passive role.  The child is “potentially”  a contributing member of society, and must be “trained”  and “controlled”.
  2. a constructivist model: the child is seen as an active agent, and eager learner, who actively constructs his or her social world and his or her place in it.

The Deterministic Model: the child is taken over by society. He is trained to eventually become a competent and functioning member. The child plays a passive role.

  1. the Functionalist Model: popular in the 1950s and 1960s, focused on how agents of socialization must , such as parents, use rearing and training strategies to ensure the internalization of society.

Socialization is the process of “training” someone into a specific situation, or all of society. Functionalists view society as a machine, with specific pieces working to make it more efficient. Functionalists would see socialization as making society more efficient in a few ways. For example, socializing students to sit for long periods of time while quietly listening prepares us for a life in an office or business. Socializing into a workplace teaches the culture to make sure you don’t stick out and ruin the “system” in place so people don’t pay attention to the odd one out instead of their jobs.

  1. the Reproductive Model:  focus on how mechanisms of social control leads to the social reproduction of class inequities. The focus is also on the advantages enjoed by those with greater access to cultural resources. For example, parents from higher social class groups can ensure their children receive quality education in prestigious academic settings, thus supporting and “reproducing” the prevailing class system.

Weaknesses of the Deterministic Models: they overlook the point that children do not simply internalize the society they are born into. Children act on and can bring about changes in society.

Many developmental psychologists see the child as active rather than passive, involved in internalizing information from his or her environment to use in organizing and constructing his or her own interpretations of the world.

III. Stage Theories of Development:

  1. Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development: Jean Piaget described the mechanisms by which the mind processes information. He said that a person understands whatever information fits into his or her established view of the world. When information does not fit, the person must reexamine and adjust his thinking to accommodate the new information.

Piaget’s notion of stages is important for this discussion because it reminds us that children perceive and organize their worlds in ways that are different from the ways of adults.



  1. Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development: Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development considers the impact of external factors, parents and society on personality development from childhood to adulthood. According to Erikson’s theory, every person must pass through a series of eight interrelated stages over the entire life cycle. He was one of the first to write about socialization as it occurs throughout life.

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson describes the physical, emotional and psychological stages of development and relates specific issues, or developmental work or tasks, to each stage. For example, if an infant’s physical and emotional needs are met sufficiently, the infant completes his/her task — developing the ability to trust others. However, a person who is stymied in an attempt at task mastery may go on to the next state but carries with him or her the remnants of the unfinished task. For instance, if a toddler is not allowed to learn by doing, the toddler develops a sense of doubt in his or her abilities, which may complicate later attempts at independence. Similarly, a preschooler who is made to feel that the activities he or she initiates are bad may develop a sense of guilt that inhibits the person later in life.


Erikson theorized eight stages of development for humans. Each stage brings about physiological changes and new social situations. The individual must adapt to these changes and experiences a crisis at each stage.  Erikson’s theory places heavy emphasis on the early stages of life– Stages I through IV, (ages 0 through 11) because they set the stage for the rest of one’s life. However, he  maintains we have many chances to alter our lives and that the detrimental effects of one stage can be off-set by adjustments at later stages.



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