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Sociology of Childhood

Since the late 1980s, sociologists have made sizable contributions to the study of children and youth. The field of childhood studies has become recognized as a legitimate field of academic enquiry.

Four examples of perspectives used by sociologists are:(1)


1) Cultural approach

There is evidence suggesting that young children actively add meaning and create peer cultures within institutional settings. For example, preferences for sex emerge by 2 years of age and race can be distinguished by 3 years of age.(1)

Even when composition of children’s groups changes, children develop rules and rituals that regulate the continuation of the activity as well as those who may join an existing group.(1) Hardman posited that children should be studied in their own right and treated as having agency and that children represent one level of society’s beliefs, values and social interactions.(1)

Sociologists have found that children create meaning through playground games that use pollution rituals to recreate larger social patterns of inequality as they occur through gender, social class and race.(1)


2) Social structural approach    

Social structural approaches to childhood studies can be divided into two areas: those that distinguish by age status and those that distinguish children’s experience by generational status.(1)

Children actively construct their worlds as a response to the constraints of age and gender. Academics like to use the generational approach to explain how children contribute to social interaction through their position in the larger social order, wherein they hold a child status.(1)

The social structural child posits that childhood may be identified structurally by societal factors that are larger than age status but help create age status in a childhood process. The resulting social structural child has a set of universal traits that are related to the institutional structure of societies.(1)


3) Demographic approach

Many American sociologists use a top-down approach in the study of children, viewing children as being interlinked within the larger family structure. Those who use this approach believe that family life structures children’s well being.(1)

Family instability leading to divorce, family poverty, and family employment may affect children’s experiences. Children from smaller families and higher incomes typically attain more education and take higher-paid employment.(1)

The demographic study of children has taken place predominantly from the public family vantage point with the assumption there are consequences for children. Very little agency is noted in these studies.(1)


4) General socialization approach

Those who study this approach believe that parents shape their children as well as their grandchildren through parenting styles, shared genes, social status and belief systems.(1) Rearing children is a public and private matter but the daily teaching of rules and roles in society largely falls to parents.