The Spaces and Places of Childhood
Children, as they are, interact with the entirety of the world around them in a symbiotic relationship. A child’s existence changes a space, and the existence of a space changes the child. The way we craft the spaces children interact with determines the developmental outcomes the child achieves. As an adult driven society in The United States, we mold and shape children into passivity. My exploration of social examples from around the world has helped me to compare and contrasts the successes and the failures in the ways different culture’s construct childhood. For example, the research I did into the MENA region showed me what a city designed with children in mind can look like.
While children are at a very different place developmentally from most adults, they still experience the same world that adults do. With that world comes both subtle and over discriminations. However, children’s autonomy is reduced. This means that, while an adult has the power to walk away from a bigot, children in The United States often do not have that autonomy. Childhood is constructed differently for children based on their race, gender sexual orientation, class, and their holistic identity. It has the potential to be even more oppressing at the intersections of these minorities. For example, an impoverished African American girl struggles with many levels of oppression and lacks any autonomy to do anything about it.
In November 1989, 196 nations came together to outline the rights of the child in 54 articles now known as the UNCRC. After ratification, this document is legally binding. Of the 196 nations at the conference, two have yet to ratify the document: The United States and Somalia. It is fulfilling to see that some nations have gone so far as to develop legislative youth boards responsible for developing and advising regional law. There are obvious parallels to draw between the child’s rights movement and the women’s rights and civil rights movements. Not the least of which is the oppression each population faced. While there are parallels, there are also differences. Children exist in oppression all around the world. Childhood varies from culture to culture but the rights of the child are most definitely a global issue. Furthermore, children have a global community behind them and access to that global community on the screens in front of them. To successfully advocate for the rights of the child, we have to acknowledge the civil rights movements of the past while at the same time acknowledging that this battle for rights is unique in its global nature.
Children are impacted by their environments. Thanks to expedited advances in technology and transportation, in tandem with the modernization of the American city, children are now as impacted by the global environment as they are by their local environment. This relationship has the potential to be symbiotic as well. We have an obligation as advocates for children’s rights to bring children to the table for conversations that impact them in their global community. In my exploration of the global construct of childhood, I quickly understood that childhood is quickly losing its geographic boundaries. Vollbracht’s book reminds us that even if we are not working directly with children, we have many opportunities to advocate for a more affirming house, neighborhood, city, state, and world for children.
The construct of childhood is one of the most unique constructs in existence. Every person on the planet experiences an interpretation of childhood at some point in their life. This entirely inclusive experience is uniquely provided to childhood and death. In that way, learning about childhood is relevant to all people. Uniquely, my life is dedicated to exploring the different constructs of childhood in formal and informal academic spaces around the world. Therefore, learning about the complexities in the relationship between children and their environment has encouraged me to holistically analyze the sociology of childhood in these settings.
Children are inherently vulnerable. At birth, human children are one of the most helpless children in the animal world. By their developmental nature they are shaped by their world. Most children today are growing up in environments set on preparing children for their future and not for their present. This creates conflict between academics and developmentally appropriate play. It fuels conflict between screen time and outdoor time. It also fuels conflict between child’s autonomy and their protection. The UNCRC outlines, in 54 articles, the rights all children of the world are entitled to. Further, the UNCRC describes the role of adults in the lives of children. Adults, in the lives of children, have an immensely powerful role. With this power, adults in all rings of a child’s social sphere can empower the child or pacify the child. It is fundamental that we understand as adults that with great power comes great responsibility.