Modern Western culture considers childhood to be the period of happiness without any problems and responsibility. Children can do whatever they want, socialize, play, and study. Modern laws do not allow children to work as it was in the previous centuries. In the past, they were treated in other way. In Europe, children were considered to be mini-adults until the 15th century.
Child labor was popular in Europe and the United States until the 19th century. Even though the Puritan colonists in America considered violence to be a sin at the beginning of the 17th century, children were required to obey their parents and teachers. Corporal punishments by a whip were very popular, just like public punishments. Adults thought it might have a positive effect on the moral state of children. The majority of American children of that time were studying, working hard, and praying. Other activities were considered to be a sin.
The reformation of the family started after the majority of couples had begun getting married based on love, not on economic issues and parental will. Such couples loved and cared for their offspring more. The works of Enlightenment philosophers like Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire started a new age in the development of educational thought and perception of children. This led to a more relaxed discipline in the family with a decrease in patriarchal authority.
The judicial system was also reformed in a way to help children adapt to life better. The Poor Laws that appeared in 1535 in England started a new tradition, when children from poor families or orphans were taken by rich families and studied crafts or trade of household services there. The state gave orphans the opportunity for apprenticeship in the United States as well. Children were not only receiving education from their teacher but were treated as a family member sometimes. The court was monitoring the lives of dependent youth and protected them on the legislative level from tyranny.
The situation of children’s rights was quite difficult until the middle of the 19th century. There was no difference between the juvenile and adult punishment system before the 20th century. Though an accused person was a minor, he/ she could be punished by beating, prison, or even the death penalty. However, the society became more emotional and sensible with time, and social organizations for protecting children’s rights appeared all over the United States. The organizations were helping those who were in need and insisted on the development of a separate judicial system for minors.
Nowadays, the situation of treating children in the US is quite strange. There is obviously a huge industry of goods and amusement that develops every year. Children are living freely in families of the middle class and upper middle class families. The majority of them have possibilities to study, even though many children do not want it. Corporal punishment can be considered by the court as a crime and the case of domestic violence. There are several serious problems connected with rearing children in the United States. Too much care from the side of parents turns out to be a phobia. Many children experience a so called stranger danger syndrome. They are taught by their parents not to talk to strangers because everyone from the outer world wants to kidnap and rape them. This leads to the psychological problems of children in the future and the fact that many children spend all their free time watching television or playing on the computer. They also face the problems of obesity and nature deficit.
In my opinion, these reasons are serious enough for future changes in the American society. Many people are starting to understand that obesity is extremely harmful to the growing organism, not only because it is not beautiful, but because it leads to serious diseases and delays in intellectual development. Many children do not want to study and behave themselves politely because they think that adults are not authorities for them. The stranger danger syndrome makes children neurotics while stranger adults do not even think about it. Television and computers have a harmful effect on the sight of children. In addition, these means of media stop their intellectual growth because there is usually nothing valuable in the information youngsters search on the Internet or watch on TV. The new media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram prevents children from normal socializing with friends. In fact, communication went online, and there should be something extraordinary to make children communicate in real life. The lack of outdoor activities cannot be good for growing organisms because the children do not move and do not breathe the fresh air that makes the brain tired.
It is possible to change this situation in numerous ways. The first example I suggest is to adopt an Asian system of organization to school life. In South Korea, students leave their smart phones and tablets in the classroom before lessons. They can take them only after school. This system leads to several positive results: children are not distracted during lessons; they spend less time on the Internet, playing games, and cannot skip classes without the teacher’s permission.
Another possibility to change the current state of things in the process of rearing children is the promotion of sports and healthy food. This campaign needs to start at home so that children could learn better by example. Grown-ups will do morning exercises, play tennis in free time, and eat salads instead of junk food for dinner. One more way to break the unhealthy habits of children is to change the menu in school canteens and introduce a healthy way of life. Perhaps, if the image of an active, healthy intellectual becomes popular, many children will get out of their bad habits.
The life of contemporary youngsters is quite comfortable, unlike the experience of American children of the 19th century. Thus, the lessons from history might frighten them by theoretical possibility that their lives can be the same if they do not behave appropriately.