What is a Child? Discuss how a scientific, a social constructionist and an applied approach attempt to answer this question. This essay will attempt to discuss how sociologists have attempted to answer the question. Childhood is viewed differently, depending on the country being considered, the period of time being studied or a personal viewpoint. According to the UN convention, a child is anybody under the age of eighteen. Several studies have been undertaken by sociologists to examine childhood.

This essay will attempt to discuss three major approaches: 1) a scientific approach tries to study this objectively by observation and experimentation to prove a theory. This essay will discuss Kohlberg's theory of "Moral development". It will not include Piaget's theory as Kohlberg's theory used Paiget's theory as a building block to his theory. 2) A social constructionist approach studies this by exploring social and cultural beliefs. The two discourses are the Romantic and Puritan discourses. 3) And an applied approach draws on both the scientific and social constructionist theories and uses the studies to understand the practicalities of Children's rights through law, policies, and professional practices and the children themselves.

The models used are the justice and the welfare model. The Scientific theory researches and endeavours to establish objective facts by using experimentation and observation. It follows mainly three stages of activities, 1) forming a concept that explains the facets of child development. 2) Formulates predictions from these concepts and then finally 3) tests these predictions through research, explanation and assessments.

One such scientist was Kohlberg and his theory of Moral development. Kohlberg based his ideas on Piaget's theory of cognitive development. He categorized these into three main levels with two stages at each level. o PRE CONVENTIONAL 1. Punishment - obedience - When you do wrong you are punished and when you obey you are rewarded 2. Self-gratification - Doing good or bad is to do with satisfying your requirements o CONVENTIONAL 1. Interpersonal concordance - being good is about being loyal to people who love and care for you.

2. Law and order - Obeying the law and following rules which may be cultural or religious o POST CONVENTIONAL 1. Social contract - Being considerate and caring about others 2. Universal ethical principle - is conscience driven and is determined by our ethical principles.

The Reliability of Kohlberg's testing is questionable. (Woolfolk, A. E) questioned if all researchers assess a child's moral levels in the same way. Is moral logic the same moral behaviour? Critics question if the answer to problems that a person chooses given a moral situation has anything to do with the age of an individual or the reasoning powers of an individual. Do both sexes Male and female go through the same stages of development?

Carol Gillian (1982) claimed that the masculine and feminine perspectives of moral dilemmas differed depending on concepts, relationships, justice and equality. The answers has more to do with the fact of the person's reasoning rather than age or the stage of moral development In the course of conducting the studies it was discovered that there were various variations between ages and reasoning of children. A Child's ability to reason and make moral choices at different ages is dependent on the socio-economic upbringing of the children. The examples in the book about Childhood indicate that children from different countries and backgrounds emphasise this. For example when the children from Chittagong in Bangladesh coming from two different socio economic background were asked the question, Yass is and Yam in (11 yrs) replied that they thought a child was somebody young and in school with less worries. Whereas an adult was somebody out of school with greater responsibilities.

Maya (about 15 yrs) replied that although she was married and a mother she did not feel like an adult rather she felt like a young girl. Which brings us to the second theory of Social construction ism. Social construction ism seeks to illustrate the influence of culture, history and social processes, in the way people approach and endeavour to make sense of the world and in retrospection the manner in which people act. Their belief is that the theory of child and childhood is socially constructed. Social construction ism endeavours to dispute the concepts regarding moral values can be defined and quantified without prejudice. A example of this was when a decision was made in the UK to release from secure units two ten year old boys who killed two year old James Bulger.

Even though the crime the committed was heinous and they were prosecuted. The secure unit that they were sent to was run not by the prison services but by the social services. The main purpose of these units is to educate and rehabilitate rather than punishing for the crime. The outcome was that these boys were given new identities and released.

This opened up a debate in the UK, Can children recognise right from wrong? What should the age of criminal accountability be? Social Constructionists use the concept of discourse largely when working. "The term 'discourse' in this context means a set of interconnected ideas held together by a particular ideology or view of the world" (Understanding Childhood, Ch 1, Pg 21). The romantic discourse of childhood - this approach perceives a child as being good and doing bad things as a result of their circumstances and upbringing. The belief is that children are innocents and the utmost must be done to protect them from the pressures and concerns of the adult world.

Whereas the puritan discourse of childhood - perceives children as naturally evil and unethical. If they are involved in doing terrible things this is because their natural malice and they should be taken to task. Also the belief here is that is children are left to their own devises because of their evil nature they will turn to mischief. This brings into context the proverb "idle minds are the devils workshop". Hence adults should have influence over children and have the authority to direct and regulate them, punishing them if they do something wrong. The Romantic and Puritan discourse is not realistic as it is difficult to come to any conclusions when just looking at a child / individual or the actions of a child / individual.

The applied approach uses a combination of both the scientific and social constructionist approaches. It uses theory, research and practical insights into the dealing with the question of childhood. The applied approach deals with the question of children's rights in society, with children's behaviour and how they should be treated? Stuart Asquith's article on illustrates the justice and welfare models where he describes the methods adapted to dealing with children who commit crimes. The UK welfare model forms the basis of information on the law and welfare policy that is required to bring up children (specifically young children). In this case the upbringing of a child is most important, whereas the justice model is based on the assumption that once a child is held responsible for the crime, the child should be treated as unlawful and incarcerated.

These models draw on both the Scientific model where it is researched that as a child develops mentally they recognise right from wrong and from the Social Constructionist approach where the welfare model uses the Romantic discourse and the Justice model uses the Puritan discourse. In conclusion, all three approaches are distinct, but complement each other. All three approaches offer insight into the complex question of what is a child? But no single approach can be used independently into answering the question.

Although the first two studies are linked and use research, theory and studies of growing, development, and socio-economic status and culture, the third is not a distinctive academic method. Where the Scientific approach endeavours to give simplicity and direction to professionals, the Social Constructionist tries not to reduce childhood simply to stages of development and the applied uses the both the above approaches to tackle the reality of childhood. The question itself means diverse things to different people male and female. The answer can be distinct depending on the society, cultural background, traditional beliefs and the various points in history. Word Score - 1378 words


Open University - Book 1 Childhood, Woolfolk, A.E. (1993).
Educational Psychology. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Gillian, C. (1982) In a different Voice;
Psychology Theory and Women's Development, Cambridge (Mass), Harvard University Press. Asquith, S (1996) 'When Children kill children: the search for justice', Childhood, 3 (1) pp.