“And according to the law I was damned. I had no money, I was weak, I was ugly, I was unpopular, I had a chronic cough, I was cowardly, I smelt…..but a child’s belief in its own short comings is not much influenced by the facts…..I had no other authority to refer to….but this sense of guilt and inevitable failure was balanced by something else: that is, the instinct to survive”, ( Orwell, 1947, p.43). The aim of this essay is to examine how a child’s life is socially constructed, by analysing the deterministic and essentialist view of their transition into adulthood. This will use Orwell’s quote to demonstrate.
Gittins (1998) explained that the term ‘the child’ denies the contradictions and complexities within human beings, just as it denies the different genders, classes, ethnic groups, family-households, religions and nations. Society tends to think of ‘child’ as having a clear chronological meaning directly related to biological developments, but there is no universal agreement as to when a child ceases to be a child and becomes an adult as this is defined within different cultures (Gittens, 1998).
Hopkins (1983), defines adolescence as a transitional period between childhood and adulthood, when much personal growth takes place, which is generally considered to be puberty. Childhood like adolescence is viewed differently in some cultures and societies at different times in a child’s life. Childhood and adolescence seem to be made up as they are considered mini adults. In Orwell’s time this transitional period was not considered as they were children then adults. Society recognises this as a stage of human development. According to Orwell’s quote, he was going to a transitional phrase from adolescent to adulthood and this was not a period that he enjoyed. He referred to himself as being unpopular, weak, ugly and lacking confidence, these are all traits of having low self-esteem and are still seen today in society which leads to peer pressure especially in teenagers. Healey (2007) explained, as young people start developing, they become more aware of what others, especially what their peers, have to say. Feller (2001) also supported this by saying everyone, especially teens wants to be accepted by people they admire and will do anything to fit in with a group. During adolescence individuals are required to make major adjustments, to develop new skills, or learn to cope with experiences. For many, this can include moving away from their birth home to attend school or establish network of friends. This was also acknowledged by Orwell in “Such, such were The Joys”, as he moved away from home at the age of eight to attend St Cyprian’s. This was also a great distance away from his birth home, without his parents as the authoritative figures.
Puberty is recognised around the world. Different cultures have puberty rituals, with different cultures and locations having different expectations, along with the age one becomes an adult (Pfeffer and Nunez, 2016). For example, in Japan, the second Monday in January, 20-year olds get dressed up in their finest attire and attend a ceremony known as the Coming of Age Festival and recognises the age when the Japanese believe youth become a mature, contributing member of society. They can now vote and drink. Whereas, In Malaysia, 11 is a special birthday for some Muslim girls, as it marks the time when they can celebrate Khatam Al Koran, a prestigious ritual that demonstrates their growing maturity at their local mosque. Girls spend years preparing for this day, reviewing the Koran so they can recite the final chapter before friends and family at the ceremony. These are all unique periods of transitions that are recognised by different cultures. The age that adolescence is attained is celebrated differently in cultures, as this is acknowledged by all as a period of learning to become an adult. They are now allowed to take risks and make mistakes, because once they become an adult, they will be expected to be perfect. This period is transitional and not biological because society say when this period is. Puberty is biological as children from different cultures or background around the world goes, through this stage by reaching physical and sexual maturity. Although different cultures see the attainment age differently, the NSPCC (2019), reiterates the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as everyone under the age of 18 as a child.
As seen in Orwell’s time, children did as they were told by an adult, as adults were the authority figure. James and James (2004), specified adults had authority, not only over their child, but also their childhood, as part of the conformity as part of bringing up children. Today adults are still in authority, but children now have rights as seen in the United Nations convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) and the Children Act (1989). UNCRC was put in place to recognise the rights of children and young people to ensure that they grow up in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity. During Orwell’s school days he was never given the opportunity to go through adolescence. He moved away from home and stated in his quote “I had no other authority to refer to”. This could be parental guidance, or he felt that he could not turn to anyone at the boarding school, forcing him to make adult decisions while he was still only a child. At that time, society expected children, that were not given the opportunity to attend school, to work from a young age to provide for the rest of the family. With changes to Laws and Legislations, society has now given children the opportunity to go through adolescence, they now have rights and responsibilities. The ability to be in school until eighteen years and the choice to further their education or join the work force.
Adolescence is a period that is socially constructed by the western culture. Philippe Ariѐs (1962) a historian of the family and childhood, first highlighted the social construction of children and found that “in mediaeval society childhood did not exist” (Frost, 2005). Children were a child then an adult, no period for adolescence. Children were not granted a special or distinctive social status. This was observed in Orwell as he was a child at school then a solider in the army. Kapunan (1971), supports this saying until recently, the importance of adolescence as a period in the development of man was not recognised. Friedman (1999), endorsed the fact that adolescence is a Western construct and explains that this is heavily supported by the explosion of mass media and travel, which has given rise to the risk of culture degrading along with self-esteem of both the young and old, losing qualities that are of great importance to their culture. Orwell never had this transitional period; he went from child to adult as was the norm in his era. Society now gives adolescents freedom, rights and responsibilities, but still sees this as a period where they can experiment at being an adult. They are treated as young adults where they are expected to make mistakes for when they are really considered adults.
Society expects adolescents to act as adults, but they are treated as children. They are thought to be old enough and have enough common sense to know how to act. Society also expect them to follow the rules set out for them as they are still the child at home, school and in public. Smetana (2011) observed that children are bombarded with many different types of rules, prohibitions and expectations along with many different types of social interactions. Adults have a negative perception of adolescence and thinks that the rise of juvenile delinquency, drugs and alcohol use and teenage pregnancy reflects a breakdown in the morals of society as adolescents are rejecting parents’ moral values and authority. Louw (1998) also noticed that society labels adolescence as teenagers and expects them to be rebellious, unpredictable, sloppy and wild in their behaviour. This is also reinforced by the media daily.
Psychologists described the deterministic view as no free will and an illusion. They further asserted a person’s behaviour is governed by internal and external forces, which they have no control over with their behaviour being predictable. A young person’s behaviour is determined by the way they were brought up within their family and culture, the interaction with their peers and personal experiences, (Sparks, 2018). Orwell lived in a deterministic society as he had no free will, but he is an essentialist because he changed his destiny by becoming a journalist and a famous author. Theorist Albert Bandura (1977), supported this as he believed that children learn in social environments by observing then imitating the behaviour of others. He also believed that learning could not be fully explained through reinforcement, but that the presence of others was an influence and often determined whether children adopted the behaviour themselves (Wheeler,2020). As seen in adolescents, this is used as a time in with adolescence is experimented, in this time they can copy adult behaviour, but make mistakes. This time was given to ensure they are fully formed adults that can make a meaningful contribution to society.
In conclusion, a child’s development into adulthood is determined and influenced by several different factors and will affect each child differently. As seen in Orwell’s time, young people still have the desire to fit in with their peers. Childhood has changed from Orwell’s time to present day with the UNCRC and the Children Act now giving children a voice so that they can be included in the choices that are available to them. It is safe to say that adolescence is culturally and socially constructed with lots of influences from Western culture like social media, however this can be viewed as both positive and negative, based on each individual choice, as individuals can influence their own development. Corsaro et al, (2009) confirmed that adolescents were regarded as adults in Western cultures, until recent times adolescence has been regarded as a stage of development between childhood and adulthood.
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