What is the role of a child

Childhood in the family

In: From politics and contemporary history. Supplement to the weekly newspaper Parliament. B 40-41 / 90, September 28, 1990, pp. 14-20 (slightly revised version)

Martin R. Textor

The There is no family - and never has been. Scientific studies have shown a large number of different types of families in the past and present. Accordingly, there is no such thing the Childhood: Every child experiences his Childhood that is determined from family to family by very different structures, role expectations, relationship qualities, rules, behavior and interaction patterns, parenting styles, personalities and environmental contacts. It grows up in a social milieu in which parents respond individually to their unique characteristics, needs, emotions, expressions and behaviors. For this reason, only very general statements can be made on the subject of "childhood in the family".

One more preliminary remark: Childhood is decisively determined by the family, even if their influence diminishes with increasing age of the children. Children are born dependent on their parents; they cannot survive in the first few years of life without the intensive care and education of adults. In the family you learn language, expression, norms, basic skills and social competencies, develop personality structures, character traits, thinking styles, ways of experiencing (gender) roles, values ​​and individual behaviors. The children are introduced to their material, social and cultural environment and learn to assert themselves in it. In this way, the foundation for the individual's further life is laid in the family. The great importance of the family becomes particularly clear when children lose a parent through death or divorce, or when they are neglected or raised incorrectly. They then react in many ways, among other things. with behavioral problems, neuroses, developmental delays and school difficulties.

However, the development of the child should not be misunderstood as being influenced by the family. Rather, it is determined by the complex interplay of hereditary factors, (family and) environmental influences and the individual's own activities. Right from the start, people are active people who actively deal with their surroundings. Their reactions are not reflex responses to internal stimuli or to environmental stimuli, but are determined, for example, by cognitive processes (interpretation of the stimuli), attitudes, feelings and self-image. In addition, human development is a lifelong process: a person's further life is not determined by their early childhood experiences - as a being with free will, they ultimately decide themselves about their fate. In the following description of childhood and family upbringing, it must be borne in mind that children are influenced by these experiences, but not invariably shaped.

I. Childhood in Contemporary Families

A characteristic of today's childhood is the plurality of lifestyles in the context of which children grow up: three-generation, multi-child, one-child, part, step, adoptive and foster families, cohabiting and living communities coexist. While a few years ago, for example, partial families and stepfamilies, but also one-child families and unmarried partnerships, were viewed negatively and there was talk of poor development conditions for children who grow up under these circumstances, today a different view is increasingly gaining ground: all familial and family-like Lifestyles are viewed as independent variants with specific structures and coping mechanisms that are usually not deficient in their socialization skills. Ultimately, the decisive factor is always the behavior, personality and upbringing style of the parents, as well as the family structures and processes determined by them. For example, a subfamily offers children good development conditions if the single parent, for example, defines their role positively, was able to build up a well-functioning social network, ensured that the children were looked after, neither overprotected nor neglected them and provided them with intensive contact with adults of the opposite sex (role models, identification figures) enables. Second families offer a context that promotes child development if, for example, they enable the children to come into contact with the outside (non-custodial) parent and assume an identity as a stepfamily (i.e. do not try to imitate a nuclear family). It is becoming increasingly clear that every familial and family-like way of life has particular strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, it is crucial for the development of children whether the (adult) family members manage to use the strengths typical of their way of life and to compensate for the weaknesses.

Another characteristic of today's childhood is the instability of the family relationships under which children grow up. On the one hand, children experience first-hand their parents' conflicts, which used to take place behind closed doors. Above all, however, they know about separation and divorce, and experience it in the families of their friends and playmates. In arguments between their parents, for example, they fear the continuation of their family and may develop less basic trust. On the other hand, more and more children are learning for themselves what separation and divorce mean. They live in a sequence of first family, divorced family, part family and second family, suffer in the transition phases from feelings such as pain, sadness, fear, anger, confusion, depression or worthlessness. It often takes several years for them to see the divorce as final and for the most part to process its consequences.

For many children today, childhood means being the only child of their parents. That means: "Only children grow up without the experiences of the large family. They have far fewer opportunities to evade the constant access of adults, to relieve themselves in the age group, to have cognitive and social experiences in dealing with their peers and older ones. Parents with only one child is more at risk of concentrating too one-sidedly on this child, of tying it too tightly to itself, of projecting their wishes onto the child "(Süssmuth 1985, p. 98). However, only children are also fixated on their parents and demand a great deal of time and energy from them. While siblings can keep busy with each other, only children often need their parents as playmates or conversation partners. They often feel lonely and bored when they don't have time.

In order to enable (single) children to have social experiences in order to promote them in the best possible way or because of the necessity of being a single parent or working for both parents, children are registered early on in day nurseries, kindergartens, play groups, music schools, after-school care or sports clubs: childhood plays today, to a large extent, in rooms occupied by pedagogues. A survey of 1,046 younger school children and 1,046 parents showed that 82 percent of the children took advantage of institutional offers in addition to school. The average was two time-bound activities, the number of which increased with the age of the children (Herzberg / Ledig 1990). In this way, children experience almost constant surveillance. Since they have only a few opportunities to play unsupervised due to increasing urbanization and traffic hazards, their development is determined to a large extent by planned activities and programs. As with adults, the daily routine is planned in advance and is shaped by the opening times of the educational and leisure facilities, the time-bound offers, the media time and the playing times with parents, which are limited by employment and housework. Spontaneous contact with people of the same age is rarely possible; fixed appointments are usually made. In this way, even in early childhood, the family retreats more and more as an environment conveying experiences. The parents organize the extra-family program for younger children, monitor their schedule, chauffeur them to leisure and educational facilities and increasingly take on a role that supplements and controls the influence of institutions, peers and other co-educators.

If the schedule is characterized by a particularly large number of scheduled activities in different facilities, children often experience the daily routine as fragmented and their living spaces as incoherent. You have to repeatedly submit to different rules, expectations and requirements, i.e. constantly reorient yourself. Adaptation problems and behavioral problems can easily arise, especially with opposing influences. The children spend more and more time in different areas of life outside of the family, in which they are confronted with different caregivers. But these cannot replace parents: Teachers, educators, social pedagogues, youth carers, trainers etc. have to look after a large number of children, accompany them only for a short period of their lives, are only involved in partial areas of their existence (e.g. school performance, social development , Mastering a certain sport or learning how to use a musical instrument) are interested and usually approach them with an instruction and educational intention. In contrast, parents are permanent caregivers who offer a more intensive relationship and a more comprehensive upbringing, take more interest in their children's lives, respect their individuality more, show more sides of themselves and feel more love, affection and personal responsibility for them. But parents too often only focus on certain aspects of their child's existence, in particular on school performance. When creating school stress, teachers and parents usually work together unconsciously.

In the past, children appropriated their environment by doing their own thing. They played and worked with the same materials as adults, imitated the work processes of their parents, made many objects themselves and had to take responsibility for certain tasks such as looking after small livestock. Playing and working went into one another. Today children seldom have the opportunity to develop skills and competencies in the planned production of things, to train creative abilities or to experiment. Independent activity and the responsible fulfillment of certain tasks no longer play a significant role. In this way, children have less sense of achievement and do not know what they can do. Accordingly, they feel less self-confident and sometimes develop a negative self-image. It has also become more difficult for them to develop a willingness to take responsibility.

Independent activity and the learning of body control are also made more difficult by the fact that children have fewer and fewer opportunities to play outside unobserved and to explore the great outdoors. City children find play areas less and less and overgrown plots in the residential area are more and more endangered by traffic. But children’s outdoor activities are also restricted in rural areas, e.g. for fear of accidents or sexual harassment. According to the aforementioned survey, 45 percent of parents said they were forbidden to play on the street, 32 percent for the forest and ten percent for streams or rivers. It is obvious that the increasing "institutionalization" of childhood also leads to a loss of home: There is no identification with the region if the life of children takes place almost exclusively in institutions.

Today, children's activity is mainly reflected in consumption. Children are surrounded by an oversupply of toys, which are increasingly pre-programmed: The game is only limited to the operation. In kindergartens, in leisure facilities and in clubs, children consume game programs developed by professionals, in school they absorb knowledge more or less passively. Consumption also plays a major role in young people and the market is omnipresent: Leisure behavior primarily includes the purchase and use of goods and services. Because of the consumer orientation, childhood and adolescence have become very expensive: swimming lessons and music schools, toys and computers, fashionable clothes and teenage magazines, going to discos and youth tourism cost a lot. In families, for example, there are more and more conflicts over money, which is often seen by children and young people as a legal claim, proof of love or compensation for disadvantages (such as lack of time on the part of their parents). Due to the long school and training period, but also the unemployment of young people and academics, the financial burden on the family from children can drag on until they are 30 years old.

On the one hand, children and young people today are outsourced from centers of everyday life and the world of work, so that many of the life's activities of adults have become obscure and understanding the world has become more difficult. On the other hand, the world of adults and children are also becoming more and more similar: both adults and children are consumers and are addressed as such. Due to the above-mentioned shifting of childhood to institutions, the life of both age groups is mainly shaped by schedules, rationality, depersonalization, desensitization and fragmentation. Since the rapid technical and scientific development is forcing adults to undertake further training, to acquire additional qualifications and possibly even to retrain, learning and the acquisition of knowledge can no longer be described as typical for childhood alone. In addition, an adolescent lifestyle is increasingly evident in adults, as shown, for example, in a frequent change of partner, an increasing importance of leisure time and similar experiences, interests and hobbies. Ultimately, the media abolish the division between the areas of life of adults and children. The latter are about sexuality, violence. Death, etc. informed. Children already "know" everything before they can experience it for themselves as adolescents or adults. "Today's child already knows the whole world through television before they can cross a street on their own" (Barthelmes / Sander 1988, p. 383).

Childhood has increasingly become a "media childhood". Almost half of all children have their own television set; Six to twelve-year-olds who live in cable households with video recorders spent an average of three hours a day in front of the television in 1985 (Rolff / Zimmermann 1986). The extent to which the media is used depends on the class, the level of education of the parents. the type of school attended by the child and the parenting behavior. This also determines whether television is used more for entertainment or to expand knowledge and to what extent media content is discussed in the family. Children who spend a lot of time in front of the television due to the lack of attractive leisure time alternatives, out of habit or due to the behavior of their parents ("immobilizing" small children by switching on the television set) have fewer opportunities to develop themselves further in play or through other forms of personal activity. Their ability to articulate, their ingenuity and their social behavior are also less encouraged. In addition, unlike books, films speak less to the intellect and require less cognitive skills and imagination. However, the media also convey contemporary images of young people as a benchmark and provide material for dealing with life issues and everyday problems (e.g. fears, sexuality or autonomy).

Television suggests that reality is reproduced in a particularly real way: especially for small children, what happens on the screen is true. Children do not notice that they are experiencing "second hand reality". Another problem is that the children are showered with images of violence, environmental pollution, war, etc. and are thus often frightened and unsettled. The adult world seems to be full of problems, as television shows almost exclusively negative forms of communication, relationship building and conflict management. Most of the main characters in films tend to act as negative role models because they do not have the qualities that children should acquire.

It is particularly problematic when children watch a lot of video films, as violence and sexuality are a particularly strong theme in them. A survey of 3,935 Bavarian schoolchildren between the ages of 13 and 18 even showed that 32 percent listed indexed and 10 percent confiscated video films among their favorite titles (Lukesch 1989). But advertising also counteracts educational goals if, for example, it conveys an image of the woman as a docile and submissive sexual object or constantly arouses new desires. Ultimately, television can become a competition for interpretation for parents and undermine their authority if it shows children the weaknesses of adults and confronts them with different values, norms and opinions. So it is not surprising that parents are becoming less and less important for children's role play.

Another characteristic of childhood today is the hostility to children in our society. For one thing, many adults are no longer used to the noise level, activity needs and curiosity of children as families with children have become a minority. On the other hand, despite a large number of scientific findings, children's development needs are disregarded in spatial and housing planning, in education and with regard to the compatibility of work and family: Above all, the urban environment is planned, low-stimulation and dangerous; Children's rooms are far too small; the school evades its educational responsibility; Single parents and parents who are both gainfully employed are often unable to ensure adequate care for their children. The equalization of family burdens - despite improvements in recent years - is still inadequate according to experts. Children also receive too little help when their parents find themselves in difficult circumstances (e.g. divorce, unemployment, care for grandparents in need of care).

II. Family education

Since the 19th century and increasingly since the 1960s, the child has moved more and more into the focus of the family - yes, many marriages are only concluded when the partners have decided to have a child. Most children today are intended children. The parents orientate themselves to their needs and desires and attach great importance to their upbringing. This development is based on the growing importance of the child in the mental household of his parents: It should give their life meaning that is less and less found in the world of work and religion. It should also satisfy the parents' emotional and psychological needs, e.g. give tenderness and be an object of love or conversation partner. In addition, many parents see upbringing as an opportunity for self-development and personal development. This attitude, but also the wish that the child should have it better than you, easily lead to material and social pampering. So the child does not have to help with the household and the garden, most of his wishes are fulfilled. Often it is overprotected, if its replacement is made difficult, it has to be grateful for life.

In many cases, however, children are also seen as an obstacle in the individuation process. Small children in particular force parents to follow their rhythm of life and prevent their wishes from being fulfilled immediately. Older children also often stand in the way of their parents for leisure activities, relaxation and self-actualization. They often appear as a financial, temporal and psychological burden. Sometimes children are neglected. Often, however, they also experience a constant alternation between a high level of attention and willingness to play on the one hand or sudden rejection and punishment on the other - depending on whether the parent feels restricted in his or her self-development by the child or needs it to satisfy emotional needs. With such a changeable upbringing style or with neglect, some children react with behavioral problems.

With regard to the father-child relationship, it should be noted that, according to a large number of scientific research results, fathers develop a relationship with children that is equivalent to the mother-child relationship and can just as easily satisfy their physical, psychological and social needs. For example, some younger fathers deal intensively with questions of upbringing, devote a lot of time to their children and take on some of the housework. They want to be accepted by them out of love and do not insist on their authority. In some of these cases, a certain rivalry arises between parents who vie for the affection of their children. Most fathers, however, continue to be only marginally involved in upbringing because the father role is a secondary role for them or because they are overburdened at work and lack the energy to play or talk to their children. In many partial families there is hardly any contact with the father who is not entitled to custody, so that there is a lack of a male role model. In girls, this can lead to difficulties in dealing with the opposite sex and in boys problems in developing a gender role identity, unless other male caregivers have a compensatory effect.

In the mother-child relationship, negative effects of the emancipation movement can often be observed. Many housewives feel abandoned, inferior and disadvantaged, miss their job and suffer from isolation, lack of fulfillment and a devaluation of their work. Their dissatisfaction and negative mood easily lead to inappropriate behavior towards the child, who is experienced as a bondage. Some women also try to develop a positive self-image by wanting to be a "perfect" housewife and mother. In these cases it is easy to overprotect and spoil the children, who can enforce almost any wish against the mother and thus master it.

Working mothers and single parents, on the other hand, are often overburdened. They often have problems with childcare and experience separation pain and feelings of guilt when they hand in toddlers in the mornings in the day care center, with the childcare provider and in the day care center. They are easily irritable and impatient, suffer from their fragmented existence and constant agitation. The parents' lack of time is also reflected in the results of a representative study, according to which mothers spend an average of 41 minutes a day on one child, 59 minutes on two and 81 minutes on three or more children. Differentiated according to the age of the children. B. 189 minutes for an only child under the age of three, 129 minutes for a three to six year old and 55 minutes for a six to 15 year old child. Fathers usually only spend around 20 minutes a day on their children (Krüsselberg / Auge / Hilzenbecher 1986).

Compared to the past, the parenting style of parenting has become more partnership-based, and children are given greater freedoms and rights of co-determination. A camaraderie prevails in many families. Parents are increasingly willing to talk to children about anything and to justify their educational behavior. You try to achieve the educational goals that apply today such as independence, maturity, maturity and self-actualization. Raising children has also become more difficult: On the one hand, the parents' self-demands have increased; they want to guarantee the child optimal development. On the other hand, they are unsettled compared to before: They have mostly broken with the upbringing tradition of their parents and, due to the changed circumstances, can no longer orientate themselves towards their own upbringing. They often feel dequalified as educators by experts such as teachers and psychologists or come into conflict with other caregivers of their children, with their requirements and expectations. Through the media, they are confronted with a multitude of different role models as well as with contradicting pedagogical theories, norms and educational advice. In addition, internal family values ​​such as trust, openness, consideration and solidarity contradict external expectations such as competitive thinking and pressure to perform: Children have to be brought up for two worlds, between which it is necessary to mediate again and again. It is clear: "Parents are challenged far more than before by personal authority and convincing arguments. The parenting environment is largely absent. Many parents feel left alone with the task of bringing up" (Süssmuth 1987, p. 3).

Sometimes parents are also delusional about pedagogical feasibility: They want a perfect child, want to bring them to university. Thus, in the name of the future, the present is overlooked. The child is under constant pressure; its limits are not seen. Again and again there is interference in his life. Another problematic development in family upbringing can be seen in the corruption of love and affection: Since corporal punishment is generally rejected, the child is directed by supplying and withdrawing love. So it experiences that it is not loved for its own sake, but only for its actions. The same applies in the event that positive behavior is rewarded with money, treats and gifts. It is also problematic when material things are used or seen as proof of love. In this way, not only does the character of love and gifts get lost, but the child also develops into a materialist. After all, some parents try to apply psychological techniques developed for problem children directly to their upbringing. You want the child to do what the parents want and believe that they want to do so (behavior therapy). Or they are constantly looking for motives behind the child's behavior, subjecting them to interpretations in this regard and trying to influence the motives (psychoanalysis).

III. What a child needs today

Childhood is not a carefree time: Children are subject to positive and negative influences in the family and the wider environment, and experience happy and unhappy hours. Some are so damaged by pathogenic living conditions that they develop abnormal behavior: symptoms can be determined in around 20 percent of all children, and in around 12 percent child and adolescent psychiatric disorders (Detzner / Schmidt 1988). Some are underperforming, others become criminals, turn to alcohol or drugs. Most children, however, develop "normally", but few will live happy and fulfilling lives. In conclusion, theses should be described what positive development conditions a child needs in the family:

1. The child needs security, security and reliability in family relationships. He can only experience this when his parents' marriage is good, when there is a dialogical relationship between the partners, when they love and respect one another, when they grow together. Only a good marital relationship creates a family atmosphere in which children can thrive and develop the trust necessary to actively explore the environment. Then it is not necessary for the parents to strive to become perfect educators. Children experience the greatest educational influence through the quality of living together; if this is good, errors in upbringing also have no negative consequences.

2. The child needs parents who are satisfied with their life. It develops best when the adults accept themselves in their parenting roles, professional roles, housewife roles, etc., balance the various areas of life and thus be there for the child without being burdened by stress, lack of time, dissatisfaction and the like.

3. The child needs parents who act as positive role models who do not behave differently from what they expect of them. It requires parents who communicate openly in the family, treat each other and the children in partnership, practice positive problem and conflict-solving behavior and take over the management of the family.

4. The child needs parents who love to give him attention and care and who are interested in him as a person. Parents should accept them as a person, have respect for their feelings and not appropriate them, use them to satisfy their own needs or abuse them as a substitute partner. It is important that they show understanding and empathy towards them, i.e. try to understand their speech and actions and to get to know his perspective. This gives the child the feeling of being taken seriously. So it can develop self-esteem and self-esteem.

5. The child needs parents who take time for them; it requires both an active father and a mother. However, this time must not be used to turn the child into an educational object. It is the subject of his life and helps determine his development. His present must not be sacrificed for a future aimed at. For toddlers in particular, play is the appropriate form of learning; teaching is premature. It is important that children can develop holistically, that they are not spoiled, overprotected or neglected.

6. Finally, the child needs a gradually expanding scope of action. Only if he slowly has to take on more and more responsibility for his behavior and his decisions can he become independent and mature over time. Parents need to learn to let go of it and gradually encourage its detachment. They should also give him space for unattended play, for environmental and self-awareness, for independent activity and creative production. But the child also needs boundaries for his protection. They must learn to be considerate of the intentions, wants, and needs of other family members. These should therefore not be kept secret. It also has to recognize that money and time are scarce so that it learns how to deal properly with consumer offers, media and leisure opportunities. After all, parents should entrust him with more and more tasks in the household, looking after his room, etc., as this contributes to his independence, leads to a willingness to take responsibility and promotes the development of his abilities.

Of course, children also need healthy development conditions outside of the family, which are only hinted at here: They need facilities that convey elementary social experiences, offer reliable relationships, challenge and encourage children, allow them to participate in adult life and are open to the district and the surrounding area. They need institutional help with problems and behavioral problems, with the separation and divorce of their parents. You need a healthy environment and living conditions that allow optimal development and encounters with others, relaxation, sport and play. And they need an adult society without child hostility, in which the importance of the family for children is recognized, in which it is adequately encouraged and in which family and work can be reconciled.


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Dr. Martin R. Textor studied education, counseling and social work at the Universities of Würzburg, Albany, N.Y., and Cape Town. He worked for 20 years as a research assistant at the State Institute for Early Education in Munich. From 2006 to 2018 he and his wife headed the Institute for Education and Future Research (IPZF) in Würzburg. He is the author or editor of 45 books and has published 770 specialist articles in magazines and on the Internet.
Homepage: https://www.ipzf.de
Autobiography at http://www.martin-textor.de