Dr. C. George Boeree


Childhood is usually thought of as starting at around 2 1/2 years old.  Early childhood is the period from then until about six years old.  In our culture, this is the preschool age.  It is characterized by a strong interest in developing language skills and learning to socialize.  Unlike the toddler, the preschooler has a clear understanding that he or she is not the only person in the world and needs to communicate and get along with others to get anywhere.

The most significant influence on the child is, of course, the parents, and many studies have undertaken to understand how parenting styles make a difference.  It is generally agree upon that there are three broad parenting styles:

First, there is the authoritarian style, which is, in fact, the traditional style of parenting we find all over the world and back as far as we can see in history.  Parents are the bosses in the family, and what they say, goes.  The consequences can be harsh - physical punishment, verbal browbeating, guilt, social ostracism - although this does not mean there is not also plenty of love as well.

The second style is called the permissive (or laissez-faire) style.  In this case, the child is pretty much allowed to do whatever they like, and the parent interferes only in emergency situations.  While we do see this style in many primitive societies with relatively peaceful and safe environments, it is more often seen in modern societies such as our own.

The last style is called authoritative, which means that, while the child is given considerable freedom and input into family decision-making, the parent is still clearly the parent.  Rules are clearly spelled out and never arbitrary, and punishments "fit the crime" but are not physically or psychological abusive.  Psychologists believe that this style is most likely to lead to good development, of course.

Middle and late childhood are, very roughly, from 6 to 9 and 9 to 12 respectively, the latter sometimes referred to as preadolescence.  Three "new" influences begin to become as important as the parents (and sometimes more):  Peers, school, and television.

My dad and two of his girlfriends

In early childhood, and even in infancy, peers - in the form of siblings and play friends - are quite influential.  As we get closer to adolescence, though, they begin to dominate.  As most parents can see in their own children, much of childhood seems to involve your children paying less and less attention to what you think and more and more attention to what their friends think.  This is, of course, a natural thing for the child to do as they move towards independence.

School (and other educational systems, such as apprenticeship, in other cultures) takes up a considerable part of a child's day.  It is, in a very real sense, a child's job.  It also seems that this is, in fact, an appropriate time for education, in that children learn easily (relatively speaking).

Television - and all the various media we surround ourselves with today - has a powerful influence on children that we are only now starting to understand a little.  With children spending hours every day in front of the tube, they are absorbing cultural values at a record rate.

Unfortunately, these values may be considerably different from the values parents would like their children to have:  Constant exposure to commercials teaches our kids that having things is the way to happiness;  The violence they see, even in cartoons, teaches them that you get what you want by taking it, and that the pain of others is unimportant;  The emphasis on appearance and sexuality teaches them that looks are everything and anything is all right if it feels good.

Between TV, movies, magazines, music, and now the internet, parents have their job cut out for them.  This may be the first generation of parents who have the odd task of teaching their children one thing, while other powerful social forces are teaching them something else!  Sadly, many parents have completely abdicated this responsibility, and allow their kids to see and do whatever they want.

© Copyright 2003, 2005, 2009, C. George Boeree