University of Wisconsin–Madison

Childhood as a Social Construct?

In the movie “Home Alone,” the idea of “childhood” is defied as Kevin, only at the age of 8 can seemingly be fully independent, yet still strive in the tough situation alone. Similarly, in “Little House on the Prairie,” Laura at the age of 6, goes through experiences that not every 6-year-old went through, and therefore may be emotionally a lot more mature than a normal child. Therefore, these stories challenge the notion mentioned in keyword essay “childhood” that one uses age to determine one’s status as a child.

In the keyword essay “Childhood,” it uses age as a determinate of one’s independence. This may seem to be the most rational and uniform way, yet many criticisms may be brought upon it. The keyword essay also discusses how a child usually has less power and authority in the dynamics of a family. Therefore, certain practices within the family may harm the growth of a child, such as assuming a child has little understanding of the world, therefore disciplining rather than teaching and explaining when a child makes a mistake. In “Little House on the Prairie,” Laura’s role in her family is as a child, someone that needs to be taken care of and someone that does not understand the complexity of the world. This can be seen as she is simply silenced by her parents when she raises questions on why the Indians should move while the white settlers can just claim the land. Therefore, the adults of the story assume that as Laura is simply a child, she will not understand the situation at hand and therefore does not even provide an explanation for her. Yet, this may not be true as Laura is seen to have far deeper insight about the situation at hand as she continuously asks hard questions that even her parents struggle to answer. This maybe because Laura, someone who had to move to an entirely new environment as a very young child, may have experienced an experience that one might only experience at an older age, such as when one moves to another city to attend college. Therefore, this experience has allowed her to mature and grow in ways that many other children may not have, breaking down the notion that one should use age to determine one’s status as a child, including one’s independence.

Similarly, in Home Alone, Kevin is 8 years old, defined in the keyword essay as someone still in childhood with age as a determinate of childhood, therefore his mother assumes that he is unable to be independent and survive being home alone. She is seen frequently worried about the well-being of his son. Instead, we see Kevin, apart being able to feed and care for himself, he is seen being able to single-handedly handle two adult burglars.

Therefore, should one still use age to determine one’s autonomy from one’s parent’s decision? In the keyword essay “childhood,” Sanchez-Eppler states how Anne Higonnet argues that the idea of childhood innocence should be replaced with a child, although requiring protection from adult, yet knowing of the world’s want and dangers. Thus, maybe the notion of a child, capable of understanding the complexity of the world, will allow the next generation to have a perspective so different from ours, that it is revolutionary.

2 thoughts on “Childhood as a Social Construct?”

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding the notion of “childhood” as it relates to numerical age and maturity. The points you mentioned regarding children who are mature beyond their age could be applied in a similar way to adulthood too. There are certainly adults who are not considered to be as mature as their age suggests. Even though there are cases like this, I think that using age to represents stages of life such as infancy, childhood, adolescent, young adulthood, adulthood, and old age are reasonable. These stages represent the “typical” person and there will always be exceptions based on the individual and lived experiences.

  2. I find your points about Laura being more mature than her parents perceive very interesting. I agree that her parent’s tend to underestimate her intellect simply based on their own notions of childhood. I would add that another lens that Laura could be seen through is one perhaps one of innocence compared to one of maturity. It could be that Laura asks these thought provoking questions because she does not yet have any prejudice about others. They say that you have to be taught to hate, so it could be argued that Laura actually holds some aspects of the childhood privilege of innocence.

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