Children: Rights and Childhood by David Archard

By David Archard

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That children are younger than adults is not all that separates them. This much is clear from the fact that we do customarily also make distinctions within adulthood between, for instance, ‘middle age’ and ‘old age’. But these distinctions have none of the force of that between ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’. Being young is associated with, indeed may well be held responsible for, other distinguishing attributes. Still, at the very least, children are young human beings. Thus the concept of ‘childhood’ is necessarily linked to that of ‘adulthood’.

Infancy, adolescence and whatever other terms may be available to a culture constitute sub-divisions of that period. On a narrow rendering of the term, childhood is the stage after infancy but before adolescence. The ‘child’ proper is sandwiched between the helpless infant and the young person on the threshold of their majority. This is an appropriate moment to take a slight detour and consider the peculiar and distinctive role played in the modern conception of childhood by what could be called the ‘middle-aged child’, that is one roughly from ages 6 to 12.

Haeckel used illustrations to show that, at the outset of their development, human and various animal foetuses are similar in form. The individual human is believed literally to develop out of an animality which is at the origin of its own species’ evolution. Again, the child is said to inherit and display preserved phylogenetic memories and instincts which are only lost as she grows up. In this strict form the biogenetic law is widely discredited. Nevertheless, it had a tremendous influence on much psychological theory, notably that of Sigmund Freud, who took it very seriously indeed.

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