Should childhood be seen as an apprenticeship for adult life?


Should Childhood be seen as an apprenticeship for adult life?

The term ‘apprenticeship' implies a form of training, whereby a younger, inexperienced individual becomes educated in a particular field. This is achieved through taking part in a period of observing, learning and imitating important skills from a senior exemplary individual in order to develop this skill as their own. Childhood is seen by many as an apprenticeship for adult life, whether this is a fair statement has to be discussed. This essay will discuss the notion of childhood as an apprenticeship, why it is seen in this way and how the learning of skills is important in later life. It will then discuss the negative issues that arise when this concept of an apprenticeship for adult life occurs. The essay will finally look at the belief that there is no apprenticeship for adult life, and that the idea of it is an unfair burden on children. The foremost point of this essay is to look at the arguments of both sides of this view and to analyse both opinions to form a conclusion that childhood can be seen as an apprenticeship for adult life, despite its often negative consequences.

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Firstly, the notion of childhood as an apprenticeship for adult life will be discussed as a positive period, which produces competent and well developed adults. The ‘senior exemplary individual' previously mentioned, is most often a parent or guardian but can sometimes be a sibling, peer or even a teacher. “Parents have always been viewed as being the most appropriate source of guidance and discipline in matters relating to behaviour and morals” (Loreman, 2009). Children require adults as guidance to assist them in learning about society's norms, values and expectations. During childhood children develop important life skills such as: communication skills and how to think; their subconscious minds are also developed and are greatly influenced by how their parents treat them.

Furthermore, Ideas and views held in childhood tend to stay constant into adult life and experiences, good or bad will also remain. Kohlberg's theory of moral development (1971, 1976), an important skill required during adulthood, consists of three stages. Kohlberg found that not all of these three stages develop in childhood, and some, only in adulthood. A child's ability of moral reasoning is only in stage one. This is pre-conventional, and is driven only by the personal consequences of their actions and their own advantage gains. However Hundt (2001) believes that this view is not a fair one and that children develop further morally than Kohlberg suggests. Hundt found that children, when provided with the reorientation and support of an adult, are capable of acting selflessly and in beneficial ways to others. This supports the idea of an ‘apprenticeship' and that children learn how to behave from influential adults.

Sharon Michaels (2009) argues that in childhood, every child is given a ‘Childhood role'. This role is a special and defined niche within the family unit; the child is loved and praised for remaining in their assigned role. This role will become the child's identity and personality; it will remain with them into adult life. In adulthood the decisions that are made and the way the individual will behave will often be a reflection of this ‘childhood role'. “Unconsciously it is part of your adult identity” (Sharon Michaels, 2009). Taking this idea and analysing it more deeply, both the positive and negative effects of ‘role giving' become evident. If the child is given a positive ‘childhood role', for example ‘the intellectual one', the child will strive to do their best to stay within this role, they will feel the need to work hard and put a considerable amount of effort in throughout their education. The child will be praised for these actions which encourage further similar actions and could ultimately lead to an intellectual and successful adult. However, the child may see their role as a burden, and will be frowned upon if they fail to live up to this, this inadvertently could cause the child to feel they have to act a particular way, and this ultimately in adult life will make them see themselves as a failure as they could not withhold their given role. Another negative outcome of this theory is that, if a child is given a negative ‘childhood role', such as ‘the dumb one', it could be said that the parents covertly are preparing their child for failure in adult life.

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A study by Rosenthal (1968) wholeheartedly supports this theory. Rosenthal performed tests on a class of children; she then gave the teachers false feedback on the tests. She labelled some of the class, whom did no better than the rest, “bloomers”. The teacher of the class then began to behave differently towards these “bloomers”, giving them more one-to-one attention and sitting them closer to the front of the class, thus they became more involved. The “non-bloomers” were criticised by the teacher more often and saw themselves as intellectually inferior to the “bloomers”. After a re-test, the “bloomers” actually performed better in the test than the “non-bloomers”. This shows the theory of childhood roles and labelling children as something they might not necessarily be has subconscious and conscious effects on how they behave, perform and how other people treat them.

Next the negative implications of the idea will be considered. Many people view childhood as an apprenticeship for adult life, sometimes subconsciously. It has become a widely presumed issue that children should learn how to become adults and how they should behave before they come close to reaching adulthood. The period of childhood has, in effect, become a period of apprenticeship. Everything children do can be seen as preparation for their lives as adults, not their times as children. This is not always a good and healthy way to grow up, and in actual fact can be dangerous and harmful to the child's development.

It has been found that if a child is treated in a particular way it will often grow up to treat people in this same way, whether it be positive or negative. “The transference of beliefs from parent to the susceptible child is a key point to understand and why children often grow up to be very similar to their parents” (Martins, If a child is abused throughout their childhood, then they are likely to be aggressive and abusive in later life as this is the apprenticeship they experienced. Childhood abuse has been found to have a negative effect on adult self-efficacy, (Uemura, R, 2007) this will in turn have a negative effect on their whole lives, the adult that childhood abuse often produces has difficulties engaging in relationships, experiences disordered behaviour and painful subconscious minds (Dr Dombeck, M, 2009). Bandura (1973, 1977, 1986) demonstrated extremely effectively that children learn from observation and imitation. In the 1960's Bandura carried out a number of experiments involving children to study how they learn. The “Bobo doll” experiment showed a film of an actress beating an inflatable doll, after watching the film the children were exposed to the doll and it was evident that the children imitated the actions of the actress with extreme precision and even created their own weapons using neutral items that were present in the room to attack the doll. Bandura's experiment can be applied to children who grow up in violent apprenticeships and experience abusive conditions.

Moreover, it was evident that if a child's father hit their mother then the child was also likely to act in this violent way towards their mother (Ulman and Straus 2003). Children who witness violent behaviour or that are victims of aggression will often encompass this behaviour when they are adults. Also if a parent punishes a child frequently to stop bad behaviour, it will have the adverse effect. The child will immediately change their behaviour but, this change is often quickly forgotten, behaviourists such as Skinner (1953) found that punishment is the least effective way of correcting bad behaviour. If the child has to grow up without parents the child will often seek another individual in whom they trust to take this role. If a child's childhood has been controlled by their mentor and the child has been under a lot of extreme pressure to learn quickly how to be, and act like an adult then the child will often miss out on their childhood.

Taking a much discussed example in Michael Jackson, he was forced to grow up extremely quickly and put under a lot of pressure to live in an adult dominated world. He became famous quickly and had little time to do the typical things that children do, instead he was pushed into a strict routine of rehearsing and performing. His father was his mentor, and Jackson's apprenticeship was intense, but it did not focus on developing him as an adult but as a famous performer, so it can be said that his apprenticeship was very successful. However Jackson in adulthood, did not act as a typical adult, when studied it could be said that he was stuck in his childhood, which he missed out on, and he seemed to refuse to grow up, his characteristics were overly child-like. From this example it is evident that children who have little experience of childhood, and are under an intense apprenticeship will often never develop fully as adults and will subconsciously try to live out their childhood during adult life.

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Ultimately the proposal that childhood is an apprenticeship for adult life can be seen as a disrespectful view of childhood. Loreman (2009) argues that many people will disagree that middle age is a period of preparation for old age, but that these same people will strongly agree that childhood is an ‘apprenticeship for adult life'. Loreman states that childhood “has become a period in life where we tend to view activities largely as preparation for the future” (Dahlberg et al 1999). Loreman however, disagrees with this view of childhood and sees it as a disrespectful outlook. Children are often referred to in clichés such as, ‘the future', this alone puts considerable pressure on children and their childhood. (Dahlberg et al 1999) Politicians and other figures with high positions in society see children as the means to certify future national economic prosperity, Bernake's view: “educating children is useful because it offers a return for investment in the future” (Loreman p12) is a utilitarian style of doctrine which is supported by many. The status of children has been reduced not to what they are in the present, but solely to what they can produce in the future. Loreman presents a more balanced view of childhood and is successful in doing this. He agrees with the earlier argument of Aurelius that children should be taught for the present, for living life in society as children, these skills can then be adapted and used then in the future, instead of teaching children how to live as adults in society (Aurelius 2006 p107). As children mature, the skills they have from childhood can be modified for particular parts of their lives. This, as Loreman effectively argued, is a much more reverential way to view and to teach children.

In conclusion, childhood should be seen as an apprenticeship for adult life, and is, overall, a positive period whereby a child learns important skills to live as an adult, despite the adverse being evident occasionally. However it should also be noted that it depends entirely upon how a child grows up, as to whether their childhood was a good or bad apprenticeship, or ultimately, whether it was even an apprenticeship at all. Overall it should not be presumed that childhood is an apprenticeship for adult life, each child must be thought of separately and their case taken into account, as both positive and negative experiences are apprenticeships nevertheless. Childhood should be given respect and should not just be presumed to be a period of preparation for adulthood. Children may seek guidance from an adult but this is not an apprenticeship and throughout their childhood children are not seeking to be adults or even to learn to be adults but to just be children.