Childhood is the age span ranging from birth to adolescence.[1] According to Piaget's theory of cognitive development, childhood consists of two stages: preoperational stage and concrete operational stage. In developmental psychology, childhood is divided up into the developmental stages of toddlerhood (learning to walk), early childhood (play age), middle childhood (school age), and adolescence (puberty through post-puberty). Various childhood factors could affect a person's attitude formation.[1]

The concept of childhood emerged during the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly through the educational theories of the philosopher John Locke and the growth of books for and about children.[2] Previous to this point, children were often seen as incomplete versions of adults.

Age ranges of childhood

The term childhood is non-specific and can imply a varying range of years in human development. Developmentally and biologically, it refers to the period between infancy and adulthood. In common terms, childhood is considered to start from birth. Some consider childhood as a concept of play and innocence which ends at adolescence. In the legal systems of many countries, there is an age of majority when childhood officially ends and a person legally becomes an adult. The age ranges anywhere from 15 to 21, with 18 being the most common.

Developmental stages of childhood

Early childhood

Main articles: Toddler and Early childhood
Children playing violin in a group recital
Children in Madagascar
Teenage boys in India

Early childhood follows the infancy stage and begins with toddlerhood when the child begins speaking or taking steps independently. While toddlerhood ends around age three when the child becomes less dependent on parental assistance for basic needs, early childhood continues approximately through years seven or eight. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, early childhood spans the human life from birth to age eight. At this stage children are learning through observing, experimenting and communicating with others. Adults supervise and support the development process of the child, which then will lead to the child's autonomy. Also during this stage, a strong emotional bond is created between the child and the care providers. The children also start to begin kindergarten at this age to start their social lives.

Middle childhood

Middle childhood begins at around age seven or eight, approximating primary school age. It ends around puberty, which typically marks the beginning of adolescence. In this period, children are attending school, thus developing socially and mentally. They are at a stage where they make new friends and gain new skills, which will enable them to become more independent and enhance their individuality. However, because biological the adolescents aren't kids is most acceptable to call this age late childhood rather than middle childhood.


Main article: Adolescence

Adolescence is usually determined by the onset of puberty at the age of 13. However, puberty may also begin in preadolescence. The adolescence is biological totaly different from childhood but it is accepted by some cultures as a part of social childhood because most of them are minors. The onset of adolescence brings about various physical, psychological and behavioural changes. The end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood varies by country and by function, and even within a single nation-state or culture there may be different ages at which an individual is considered to be (chronologically and the legally) mature enough to be entrusted by society with certain tasks.


Main article: History of childhood
Playing Children, by Song Dynasty Chinese artist Su Hanchen, c. 1150 AD.

It has been argued that childhood is not a natural phenomenon but a creation of society. Philippe Ariès, an important French medievalist and historian, suggested this in his book Centuries of Childhood. This theme was then taken up by Cunningham, in his book the Invention of Childhood (2006), which looks at the historical aspects of childhood from the Middle Ages to what he refers to as the Post War Period of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Ariès published a study in 1961 of paintings, gravestones, furniture, and school records. He found that before the 17th-century, children were represented as mini-adults. Since then, historians have increasingly researched childhood in past times. Before Ariès, George Boas had published The Cult of Childhood. During the Renaissance, artistic depictions of children increased dramatically in Europe. This did not impact the social attitude to children much, however (see child labour).

During the 1600s, the concept of childhood began to emerge in Europe. Adults saw children as separate beings, innocent and in need of protection and training by the adults around them. The English philosopher John Locke was particularly influential in defining this new attitude towards children, especially with regard to his theory of the tabula rasa, which considered the mind at birth to be a "blank slate". A corollary of this doctrine was that the mind of the child was born blank, and that it was the duty of the parents to imbue the child with correct notions. During the early period of capitalism, the rise of a large, commercial middle class, mainly in the Protestant countries of the Dutch Republic and England, brought about a new family ideology centred around the upbringing of children. Puritanism stressed the importance of individual salvation and concern for the spiritual welfare of children.[3]

The Age of Innocence c.1785/8. Reynolds emphasized the natural grace of children in his paintings

The modern notion of childhood with its own autonomy and goals began to emerge during the Enlightenment and the Romantic period that followed it. Jean Jacques Rousseau formulated the romantic attitude towards children in his famous 1762 novel Emile: or, On Education. Building on the ideas of John Locke and other 17th-century thinkers, Rousseau described childhood as a brief period of sanctuary before people encounter the perils and hardships of adulthood.[4] Sir Joshua Reynolds' extensive children portraiture clearly demonstrate the new enlightened attitudes toward young children. His 1788 painting The Age of Innocence, emphasizes the innocence and natural grace of the posing child and soon became a public favourite.

With the onset of industrialisation in England, a growing divergence between high-minded romantic ideals of childhood and the reality of the growing magnitude of child exploitation in the workplace, became increasingly apparent. By the late 18th century, however, children were specially employed at the factories and mines and as chimney sweeps,[5] often working long hours in dangerous jobs for low pay.[6] As the century wore on, the contradiction between the conditions on the ground for children of the poor and the middle-class notion of childhood as a time of innocence led to the first campaigns for the imposition of legal protection for children. Reformers attacked child labor from the 1830s onward, bolstered by the horrific descriptions of London street life by Charles Dickens.[7] The campaign eventually led to the Factory Acts, which mitigated the exploitation of children at the workplace.[8][9]

The modern attitude to children emerged by the late 19th century; the Victorian middle and upper classes emphasized the role of the family and the sanctity of the child, – an attitude that has remained dominant in Western societies ever since.[10] The genre of children's literature took off, with a proliferation of humorous, child-oriented books attuned to the child's imagination. Lewis Carroll's fantasy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 in England, was a landmark in the genre; regarded as the first "English masterpiece written for children", its publication opened the "First Golden Age" of children's literature.

The latter half of the century also saw the introduction of compulsory state schooling of children across Europe, which decisively removed children from the workplace into schools. The market economy of the 19th century enabled the concept of childhood as a time of fun of happiness. Factory-made dolls and doll houses delighted the girls and organized sports and activities were played by the boys.[11] The Boy Scouts was founded by Sir Robert Baden-Powell in 1908,[12] which provided young boys with outdoor activities aiming at developing character, citizenship, and personal fitness qualities.[13]

Geographies of childhood

The geographies of childhood involves how (adult) society perceives the very idea of childhood and the many ways the attitudes and behaviors of adults affects children's lives. This includes ideas about the surrounding environment of children and its related implications. This is similar in some respects to children's geographies which examines the places and spaces in which children live.

Modern concepts of childhood

Children play in the fountain in a summer evening, Davis, California.
Nepalese children playing with cats.

The concept of childhood appears to evolve and change shape as lifestyles change and adult expectations alter. Some believe that children should not have any worries and should not have to work; life should be happy and trouble-free. Childhood is usually a mixture of happiness, wonder, angst and resilience. It is generally a time of playing, learning, socializing, exploring, and worrying in a world without much adult interference, aside from parents. It is a time of learning about responsibilities without having to deal with adult responsibilities.

Childhood is often retrospectively viewed as a time of innocence, which is generally viewed as a positive term, connoting an optimistic view of the world, in particular one where the lack of knowledge stems from a lack of wrongdoing, whereas greater knowledge comes from doing wrong. A "loss of innocence" is a common concept, and is often seen as an integral part of coming of age. It is usually thought of as an experience or period in a child's life that widens their awareness of evil, pain or the world around them. This theme is demonstrated in the novels To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies. The fictional character Peter Pan was the embodiment of a childhood that never ends.

Nature deficit disorder

Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, refers to the trend in the United States and Canada towards less time for outdoor play[14][15] resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.[16] With the heavy use of cellphones, computers, video games and television, children have more reasons to stay inside rather than outdoors exploring. “The average American child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media”.[17] Recent research has drawn a further correlation between the declining number of National Park visits in the U.S. and increasing consumption of electronic media by children.[18] The media has accelerated the trend by deemphasizing views of nature, as in Disney films.[19]

Healthy childhoods

Children dancing ballet – picture by the French painter Edgar Degas.
Peruvian girls studying

Role of parents

Main article: Parenting

Children's health

Children's health includes the physical, mental and social well-being of children. Maintaining children's health implies offering them healthy foods, insuring they get enough sleep and exercise, and protecting their safety.[20] Children in certain parts of the world often suffer from malnutrition, which is often associated with other conditions, such diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.[21]

Child protection

Child protection, according to UNICEF, refers to "preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children – including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour and harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage".[22] The Convention on the Rights of the Child protects the fundamental rights of children.


Harari girls in Ethiopia.

Play is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children.[23] It offers children opportunities for physical (running, jumping, climbing, etc.), intellectual (social skills, community norms, ethics and general knowledge) and emotional development (empathy, compassion, and friendships). Unstructured play encourages creativity and imagination. Playing and interacting with other children, as well as some adults, provides opportunities for friendships, social interactions, conflicts and resolutions.

It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.[23] Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. However, when play is controlled by adults, children acquiesce to adult rules and concerns and lose some of the benefits play offers them. This is especially true in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills.[23]

Play is considered to be so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.[24] Children who are being raised in a hurried and pressured style may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play.[23]

The initiation of play in a classroom setting allows teachers and students to interact through playfulness associated with a learning experience. Therefore, playfulness aids the interactions between adults and children in a learning environment. “Playful Structure” means to combine informal learning with formal learning to produce an effective learning experience for children at a young age.[25]

Even though play is considered to be the most important to optimal child development, the environment affects their play and therefore their development. Poor children confront widespread environmental inequities as they experience less social support, and their parents are less responsive and more authoritarian. Children from low income families are most likely to have less access to books and computers which affects their development as they do not have access to resources that would enhance their development.[26]

Street culture

Children in front of a movie theatre, Toronto, 1920s.

Children's street culture refers to the cumulative culture created by young children and is sometimes referred to as their secret world. It is most common in children between the ages of seven and twelve. It is strongest in urban working class industrial districts where children are traditionally free to play out in the streets for long periods without supervision. It is invented and largely sustained by children themselves with little adult interference.

Young children's street culture usually takes place on quiet backstreets and pavements, and along routes that venture out into local parks, playgrounds, scrub and wasteland, and to local shops. It often imposes imaginative status on certain sections of the urban realm (local buildings, kerbs, street objects, etc.). Children designate specific areas that serve as informal meeting and relaxation places (see: Sobel, 2001). An urban area that looks faceless or neglected to an adult may have deep 'spirit of place' meanings in to children. Since the advent of indoor distractions such as video games, and television, concerns have been expressed about the vitality – or even the survival – of children's street culture.

Children's rights

Main article: Children's rights

Children's rights are the human rights of children, with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors, and provision of basic necessities. Children's rights are not respected in all countries. Globally, millions of children are subjected to exploitation, including deprivation of education, child labor, forced military service, or imprisonment in institutions or detention centers where they endure poor conditions and violence.[27]

Research in social sciences

Further information: Childhood studies

In recent years there has been a rapid growth of interest in the sociological study of adulthood. Reaching on a large body of contemporary sociological and anthropological research, people have developed key links between the study of childhood and social theory, exploring its historical, political, and cultural dimensions in Ethiopia.

See also

Older teenagers at the Bannu jail in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan


  1. 1 2 Macmillan Dictionary for Students Macmillan, Pan Ltd. (1981), page 173. Retrieved 2010-7-15.
  2. Eddy, Matthew Daniel (2010). "'The Alphabets of Nature: Children, Books and Natural History, 1750-1800'". Nuncius. 25: 1-22.
  3. Vivian C. Fox, "Poor Children's Rights in Early Modern England," Journal of Psychohistory, Jan 1996, Vol. 23 Issue 3, pp 286–306
  4. David Cohen, The development of play (2006) p 20
  5. Laura Del Col, West Virginia University, The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England
  6. Barbara Daniels, Poverty and Families in the Victorian Era
  7. Amberyl Malkovich, Charles Dickens and the Victorian Child: Romanticizing and Socializing the Imperfect Child (2011)
  8. "The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England". Laura Del Col, West Virginia University.
  9. The Factory and Workshop Act 1901
  10. Thomas E. Jordan, Victorian Child Savers and Their Culture: A Thematic Evaluation (1998)
  11. Howard Chudacoff, Children at Play: An American History (2008)
  12. Woolgar, Brian; La Riviere, Sheila (2002). Why Brownsea? The Beginnings of Scouting. Brownsea Island Scout and Guide Management Committee.
  13. Boehmer, Elleke (2004). Notes to 2004 edition of Scouting for Boys. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  14. For more children, less time for outdoor play: Busy schedules, less open space, more safety fears, and lure of the Web keep kids inside by Marilyn Gardner, The Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2006
  15. U.S. children and teens spend more time on academics by Diane Swanbrow, The University Record Online, The University of Michigan.
  16. Are your kids really spending enough time outdoors? Getting up close with nature opens a child's eyes to the wonders of the world, with a bounty of health benefits. by Tammie Burak, Canadian Living.
  17. Outside Agitators by Bill O'Driscoll, Pittsburgh City Paper
  18. "Is There Anybody Out There?", Conservation, 8 (2), April–June 2007, archived from the original on 2008-12-01
  19. Prévot-Julliard, Anne-Caroline, Romain Julliard, and Susan Clayton. "Historical evidence for nature disconnection in a 70-year time series of Disney animated films." in Public Understanding of Science (2014) doi: 10.1177/0963662513519042
  23. 1 2 3 4 Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd. "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds" (PDF). American Academy of Pediatrics.
  24. "Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989.". Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved 2006-06-22.
  25. Walsh, Glenda. "Playful Structure". Council of University Libraries.
  26. American Psychologist (March 2004), 59 (2), pg. 77–92

Further reading

External links

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Preceded by
Stages of human development
Early childhood, Childhood
Succeeded by
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