Term Paper: Children Sociology Theorizing Childhood Power

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Children Sociology

Child abuse is not an anomaly but part of the structural oppression of children. Assault and exploitation are risks inherent to 'childhood' as it is currently lived. It is not just the abuse of power over children that is the problem but the existence and maintenance of that power itself" (Kitzinger, 1997: 168). The power of the adults over children, given by their social statute, gained by criteria of age (meaning life experience= they know what is best for children) is used sometimes as an excuse of the children abuses.

The last century was significant for the development of children and childhood concept. Protecting the child has become an international rule, so that all the social institutions were forced to change their view (legally and practically) about the children's position in the adult life.

In the past, children's rights were very limited, almost inexistent, we can say, but no one bothered to spend a look and do some research about the social cause of this fact from the children's point-of-view, the adult perspective being an easier way out. "Children were typically treated as "dependent variables" of various categories of adults, professionals and institutions that "have" children, take care of them, work with them, are responsible for organizing their living conditions, or in any other way relate to them. Consequently children were looked upon from the viewpoints of adults, agencies and institutions" (Alanen, 2004: 2). After many debates and critics regarding negligence, discrimination and repression over children, a new perspective came into light, treating them as an integrant part of the social process. But a problem still remained, as "the perspective to children provided by "socialization" is, moreover, also inherently adultist, as it brings children into view from the singular viewpoint of adults and adult society" (Alanen, 2004: 3)

The socialization theory includes children into the social life like a separate subject, placing them in the center of the studies. This model is elaborated after the idea of a child who has to develop in his own life the rules of the adult society. He will be a part of it only after achieving all these information. Children are not just objects, but active contributors, influenced by the society and influencing it, at their turn (James, Janks & Prout, 1998).

As an observation to this theory, Alanen says that it "must avoid the conventional view of children as objects and victims, granting them instead the status of participants and constructors in the process that make up their, and our world" (Alanen, 1990: 26).

This theoretical concept of "power" has developed as a critique to the adult ideological perspective. According to this theory, children can and do act in the social life, being part of all the social processes, in the cultural, political or the economical life. (Mason, Jan and Steadman, B., 1996)

Kitzinger is treating this issue from a different perspective, that of the children who, because of the misinterpreted concept of innocence, have to use all their resources for resisting the adult attacks on them. The vulnerability of children is seen as an outcome of the childhood institution. In his opinion, the innocence concept was used "to incite public revulsion against sexual abuse," and he founded "three main reasons" for this situation (Kitzinger, 1997: 168).

The first argument is that "the notion of childhood innocence is in itself a source of titillation for abusers" (Kitzinger, 1997: 168). Because of the media publicity, where the innocence has become a promoting image of sexuality, people's view of the child's purity changed into a view of a sexual mature child, who can easily become a "sexual object" in the eyes of the abusers.

Another reason is that "innocence is a double-edged sword in the fight against sexual abuse because it stigmatizes the 'knowing' child" (Kitzinger, 1997: 168). Children innocence concept is based on some strict criteria, which have to be respected in order to consider the children keeper of this innocence, absolutely excluding the ones who don't act according to these norms. If "the girl drinks, smokes and often fails to do her homework on time" (Daily Mail, 14.12.85), all this magic created based on the innocence of childhood disappears. A more than correct observation is included by Kitzinger: 'the sexually victimized child may be viewed neither as a child nor as an adult but rather as a piece of "damaged goods" lacking the attributes of both childhood and adult...sexually; victimized children may become "walking invitations" (Sgroi, 1982:114). A child who has been already a victim of an abuse can easily become, without the help and protection needed, a regular victim of the same abuser or the victim or other abusers. Once lost the statute of purity, the view over a child is changed completely.

The most important argument is "that it is an ideology used to deny children access to knowledge and power and hence actually increases their vulnerability to abuse" (Kitzinger, 1997: 169). This exclusion from information and the promotion of ignorance are transforming the children into easy captures of the abuse and its consequences. Instead of informing the children about the incest and the other types of abuse that can be a way of preventing the future abuse attempts on them, people use children innocence as an excuse to this ignorance.

The victims of an abuse are seen as passive objects, as pathetic and helpless beings who are only the result of the abuse, without considering their participation to the act of the abuse. Kitzinger calls this concept "the passive victim" (Kitzinger, 1997: 170). but, at a closer look, the things are totally different. An abuse is traumatic to any age category, but abused children have to grow up with this trauma and learning to develop their personality as human beings, sometimes at the same tie with the abuse that happened or is still happening in their life. They have to find different ways to survive abuses, because most of the time, they are on their own. Their methods can be physical, using accidents made on purpose on their own body or physic power, like: "they induced nose bleeds, held their breath until they fainted, or had various 'accidents' to ensure they could not be sent off on their access visit with daddy or be left alone with the abusive babysitter. They also tried barricading their bedrooms, fleeing and hiding"(Kitzinger,1997: 170). There are other ways, too, like: the image transformations, the attempt to make themselves less attractive for the abusers or physically, taking their mind somewhere else from the place and time of the abuse or erasing it from the memory.

Other interesting aspect would be the situation in which the children consider the abuse as a payment for their need of attention and affectivity or for gaining some extra rights as children.

With the argument that "children are constantly acting to preempt, evade, or modify sexual violence" (Kitzinger, 1997: 170), it can be said that, according more attention to the interpretation of children over the act of abuse can get us a new concept for the abused children, opposed to "power" concept, the "resistance" concept: "in recognizing the political oppression of children (on the basis of age and of gender, race, class and disability), a radical approach would also recognize children as resisters to those oppressions" (Kitzinger, 1997: 183).

Today there is a lot of publicity for the Child abuse prevention, based on their power to prevent and stop these oppressions, giving children all kinds of solutions to actually fight against it. Sometimes these can be successful, but this is not a general rule, because these methods are not addressed to all the children, but to some social groups of children. The erroneous effect of these actions is the guilt that remains after an unstoppable abuse is consumed, that can persist longer than the trauma of the child, even when he is passing into the adult life. If the child was taught to use a mean of defense that he was not able to sustain, he will probably take one part (bigger or smaller) of blame on him, asking himself which of his actions was wrong and how he could have stopped the abuse. There are many questions, hard or impossible to solve, that can rise from a situation like this.

That is why Kitzinger is blaming the empowerment of children, considering their "resistance" more important in front of an abuse and giving children alternatives. It is vital for a child to know that he can survive an abuse if it cannot be stopped. Of course there are ways of prevention of an abuse, and the main one is information, but unfortunately abuse still happen and will happen. That is why it is important that every abused child finds his own way in dealing with the abuse and helping him to survive the trauma and fight for his right to live a normal childhood.

James, Jenks and Prout (1998), point out the four major sociological theories of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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