Shaping Childhood: Themes of Uncertainty in the History of Adult-Child Relationships

Shaping Childhood: Themes of Uncertainty in the History of Adult-Child Relationships

Shaping Childhood: Themes of Uncertainty in the History of Adult-Child Relationships

Shaping Childhood: Themes of Uncertainty in the History of Adult-Child Relationships

Synopsis

Cox examines the ways in which the broader cultural forces such as religion, literature and mass consumption influence contemporary parenting, and locates child professionals within the context of these forces.

Excerpt

As I read this book, images, sometimes unwelcome, crossed and recrossed my mind, testifying to the deep emotional significance of the topic and the power of the analysis. I remember, for example, my father’s intense feelings as he sought to describe to his young daughter the concept of original sin. (It was part of a rationale for abandoning church.) His nostrils flared when emotions ran high and I see him now, positively twitching with distress at the idea of ‘a little child being born sinful’. Born at the end of the nineteenth century, my father’s feelings were still raw in the 1930s.

I remembered the tension surrounding the inquiry, in 1973, into the death of Maria Colwell at the hands of her stepfather. I was a member of the inquiry and I argued with my colleagues. In particular, I recall an acrimonious exchange as to whether it was culturally acceptable for a 6-year-old child, in a council housing estate in the early 1970s, to collect bags of coal from the shop, in a pram, for her mother.

I remember the shock, when, a year or two ago, someone gave me a book of Charles Dodgson’s photographs of pubescent girls. The revulsion which I felt was quite visceral. The photographs are no longer in my house. They formed the core of a short story on sexual abuse which I attempted at a ‘creative writing course’ last year.

These three examples illustrate some of the dimensions of the subject of childhood which are significant: social influences, filtered by parents; sociological awareness and powerful subjective reactions to sexuality, shaped by contemporary values.

I am not an expert in the history of childhood but I have been, for some forty years, continuously involved, professionally and academically, with child welfare, particularly those aspects concerned with the protection of children against abuse. Since the 1970s there has been mounting public interest in the issue; the media has raised public

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