Causes of Childhood
Now that we know what it is, what can we say about the causes of childhood? Recent years have seen a flurry of theory and speculation from a number of perspectives. Some of the most prominent are reviewed below.
Emile Durkind was perhaps the first to speculate about sociological causes of childhood. He points out two key observations about children:
1. the vast majority of children are unemployed, and
2. children represent one of the least educated segments of our society. In fact, it has been estimated that less than 20% of children have had more than fourth grad education.
Clearly, children are an “out-group.” Because of their intellectual handicap, children are even denied the right to vote. From the sociologist’s perspective, treatment should be aimed at helping assimilate children into mainstream society. Unfortunately, some victims are so incapacitated by their childhood that they are simply not competent to work. One promising rehabilitaion program (Spanky and Alfalfa, 1978) has trained victims of severe childhood to sell lemonade.
The observation that childhood is usually present from birth has led some to speculate on a biological contribution. An early investigation by Flintstone and Jetson (1939) indicated that childhood runs in families. Their survey of over 8,000 American families revealed that over half contained more than one child. Further investigation revealed that even most non-child family members had experienced childhood at some point. Cross-cultural studies (e.g., Mowgli and Din, 1950) indicated that family childhood is even more prevalent in the Far East. For example, in Indian and Chinese families, as many as three out of four family members may have childhood.
Impressive evidence of a genetic component of childhood comes from a large-scale twin study by Brady and Partridge (1972). These authors studied over 106 pairs of twins, looking at concordance rates for childhood. Among identical or monozygotic twins, concordance was unusually high (0.92), i.e., when one twin was diagnosed with childhood, the other twin was almost always a child as well.
A considerable number of psychologically-based theories of the development of childhood exist. They are too numerous to review here. Among the more familiar models are Seligman’s “learned childishness” model. According to this model, individuals who are treated like children eventually give up and become children. As a counterpoint to such theories, some experts have claimed that childhood does not really exist. Szasz (1980) has called “childhood” an expedient label. In seeking conformity, we handicap those whom we find unruly or too short to deal with by labelling them “children.”
Causes of Childhood