Is children’s development a universal staged process or a social and cultural process

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Children’s development can be looked at and understood in contrasting approaches. The scientific approach looks at the facts about children by composing theories and consequently testing them through observing and experimenting. Jean Piaget is a developmental theorist who did his research in this way. The second type of approach used to understand child development is that of the social constructionist.

The social constructionist approach takes into account the way people make sense of the world and how they look at it from an overall point of view i. . world view. The final approach used is one most commonly used by organisations, institutions and people that are in the roles of providing children’s care and ensuring their welfare. The applied approach deals with the practical questions about children in everyday life in regards to what the obligations and needs are towards them from their parents or professionals that are working with or for them.

By looking at the first two approaches in more detail and looking at the contrasting views surrounding them a conclusion will be drawn as to whether it is one specific approach that applies to the development of children or whether it is a combination of the two. The general idea behind the scientific approach is that all children go through the same stages of development on a physical, emotional and moral level at the same time regardless of where they are in the world.

The scientific approach was used by theorists such as Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg and by using this they were “seeking to establish universal laws of cause and effect” (Rogers, 2003 p. 12) for development in children and did this by devising theories and then testing them through observing and experimenting. Piaget watched groups of boys playing marbles for one of his earlier studies and noticed that different ages approached the game in different ways with regards to making up rules and the interactions between them at different ages.

Through his observations he devised a theory which is referred to as his theory of ‘cognitive development’ which was the idea that the thinking capacity of children do no gradually improve as they get older but that the way in how they think changes. The conservation of liquids task (Rogers, 2003 p. 13) which is one of Piaget’s experiments was used to assess this theory and Piaget found that the child was not able to confirm that the amount of water was the same and that it was merely being put into a different shaped cylinder making it look like there was more water than previously.

Moral values and judgements are developments in children which Kohlberg believed could also be assessed using the scientific approach. He used Piaget’s theory of cognitive development which included a child’s development of moral reasoning which he tested with the mountains task (Rogers, 2003 p. 15) showing a child’s inability to de-centre and view the world from another’s point of view. Kohlberg believed that moral judgements are universal and that they are not based on personal or biased thoughts.

He devised a theory of stages in moral development and to test it he used moral dilemmas to discover at which age children reached various stages. Kohlberg did find in other studies however that the speed at which children reached these different stages were influenced by culture and by their upbringing. The scientific approach can be powerful in obtaining knowledge about a child’s level of competence in a cognitive capacity and also of their competence in making moral judgements and their understanding of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.

Psychologist Carol Gilligan (Rogers, 2003 p. 25) criticised Kohlberg’s stages of moral development theory as it was presenting a masculine world view and drew attention to the fact that females place higher value on care rather than justice. Gilligan showed that females developed differently in their way of thinking and that the “end-point they reach is different” (Rogers, 2003 p. 25) – Kohlberg’s stages in his theory should differ according to gender. Edward Said also criticised Kohlberg’s theory due to Kohlberg having a constructed image of those in the Middle East as being depraved. Read also about the role of cognition in learning

Said discusses that the world view, social and cultural aspects of an individual’s life is thought of as ‘natural’ and ‘factual’. If anything is different about these issues then they are treated as ‘wrong’ or as myth which is instilling a sense of superiority above other cultures if you are living in the West. Criticisms like this paved the way to thinking that perhaps there is more to how children develop and that we should consider other aspects rather than just the scientific experiments.

In contrast to the scientific approach, social constructionism draws attention to how culture, history, and a person’s world view affects a child’s development. This approach challenges the idea that there is a universal path for a child’s development and that it will vary depending on the social and cultural input into the child’s life Discourse is a widely used concept in social constructionist work. With children, competing discourses can be expressed about how they should be treated and about what a child really ‘is’.

Discourse is a set of ideas that are connected and created by a person’s world view and can be based on assumptions which a person may have been brought up to believe or expect from a child – they are “rooted in a historical, social and political context. ” (Montgomery, 2003 p. 47) The Romantic discourse of childhood is a time of happiness and innocence and is an ideal of what childhood should be. If they do terrible things then they do this only because they have been treated badly in some way.

In this context, children that murder should be treated through rehabilitation and therapy. In contrast however, there is a negative viewpoint which is opposite to this and it is labelled the Puritan discourse of childhood. This discourse suggests that children “need to be carefully controlled” (Rogers, 2003 p. 23) by adults and will cause trouble and commit sins without this intervention. Therefore, if children do awful things then this is because they are like animals and haven’t been controlled and in turn should be punished for their actions.

Children who commit murder can be seen through these two different discourses by using a social constructionist approach. These concepts are ideas that have been instilled in individuals through their upbringing at home and also through their social circles and are putting children in different categories because of these. It is not only adults that construct childhood. Children are actively trying to construct their own childhood as they grow up. Joshua (U212, Video 1 Band 1 pp. 66-174) from Cape Town discusses how “a child is like a little person who’s learning how to be moulded into an adult” and the good and bad things about being a child.

This is his interpretation of what childhood is about and shows that even at this young age of eight that children are trying to make sense of the world in which they are growing up. Social constructionism shows the differences that exist between cultures about the nature of childhood. The case of oyako shinju (Montgomery, 2003 pp. 4-55), seen as a cultural act of love shows the clashes that exist between two different discourses. The Japanese-American community accepts in their culture that the life of a child that has no mother is incomplete as the child is merely part of the parent and not an individual. A Japanese mother attempted a double suicide on her children and herself which failed as she only drowned the children. The US legal discourse believes a child is independent of its mother and is entitled to be protected and because of this the mother found herself facing prosecution.

When discourses conflict they can cause difficulties as was shown in this example of oyako shinju which resulted in someone facing prosecution for an accepted act in their culture. Children’s development can, to some extent, be a universal staged process. Therefore the scientific approach does prove to be a positive way of analysing their development as it has certainly given some professionals the basis to ensure that different issues (such as their culture, age, upbringing or gender) surrounding development are considered.

Consequently, it would seem that a child’s development is in fact a combination of the two as the social and cultural process could be based on the universal staged process for some people as they are used in regards to criminal activity committed by children. In conclusion, more weight needs to be given perhaps to the social constructionist approach as everyone is affected and brought up with certain discourses and this for a young child is what affects their development and the construction of their individual and unique childhood.

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