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Discuss the changing roles of children within the family.


Family roles and changing relationships

 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Free Essay Outline

Briefly introduce the changing nature of childhood and family structures. Mention the perspectives you'll be discussing (e.g., Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism).

Shifting Economic Roles of Children
From economic assets to economic burdens: Discuss the historical shift from children contributing economically to being financially dependent. Mention factors like industrialization, compulsory education, and child labor laws.

Evolving Emotional Significance of Children
Rise of the 'emotionally priceless' child: Discuss the increasing emphasis on children's emotional well-being and the emergence of childhood as a distinct life stage. Consider the influence of changing parenting practices and societal values.

Impact of Family Structure and Social Class
Diverse family forms and their influence: Analyze how single-parent families, reconstituted families, and same-sex families might experience and shape children's roles differently.
Social class variations: Explore how economic circumstances can influence children's roles and responsibilities within families. Consider material deprivation and cultural expectations.

Theoretical Perspectives on Childhood
Functionalism: Briefly explain the functionalist view of children as future citizens who need socialization.
Marxism: Discuss how Marxist perspectives might see children's roles as shaped by capitalist exploitation and inequalities.
Feminism: Explore how different feminist perspectives might view the impact of changing family structures and gender roles on children.

Summarize the key arguments and reiterate that children's roles within the family are not static but are constantly evolving in response to broader social and economic forces.

Free Essay 

The role of children within families has undergone a dramatic transformation across history and continues to evolve in the modern era. This essay will explore the changing roles of children within the family, examining the shift from economic assets to emotional significance, and considering the impact of family structure, social class, and theoretical perspectives. These perspectives include functionalism, Marxism, and feminism, each offering a unique lens through which to understand the complex interplay between childhood and family dynamics.

Shifting Economic Roles of Children
Historically, children were often viewed as economic assets, contributing to family income through labor in fields, workshops, and domestic tasks. This economic function was deeply ingrained in many pre-industrial societies, where families relied on the collective efforts of all members for survival (Aries, 1962). However, the Industrial Revolution and subsequent societal shifts brought about a significant change. With the rise of factories and the development of compulsory education, children began to be perceived as economic burdens, requiring financial support rather than generating income (Humphrey & Lee, 2017). This transition was further solidified by the introduction of child labor laws, which aimed to protect children from exploitation and ensure their access to education.

Evolving Emotional Significance of Children
As the economic role of children diminished, their emotional significance grew. The emergence of childhood as a distinct life stage, characterized by play, learning, and development, contributed to the shift in societal values. Parents began to invest more time and resources in nurturing their children's emotional well-being, viewing them as "emotionally priceless" (Aries, 1962). This change was further influenced by shifting parenting practices, driven by the influx of developmental theories and the emphasis on emotional and cognitive development. The increasing emphasis on emotional bonds and quality time within the family led to a redefinition of children's roles, transforming them from economic contributors to cherished members of the family unit.

Impact of Family Structure and Social Class
Diverse family forms and their influence: Family structure plays a significant role in shaping children's experiences and responsibilities. In single-parent families, children may assume greater domestic responsibilities and experience different patterns of caregiving. Alternatively, children in reconstituted families may have to navigate complex dynamics involving blended families and step-parents. Furthermore, the rise of same-sex families introduces new considerations regarding parental roles and children's social experiences (Weeks, 2015). Social class variations: Economic circumstances can significantly influence children's roles and responsibilities within families. Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may face greater pressures to contribute financially, even in the absence of formal child labor (Lee, 2016). This can lead to a blurring of the lines between childhood and adulthood, with children facing increased responsibilities and expectations. Conversely, children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds may experience more structured and controlled childhoods, with greater emphasis on education, leisure activities, and personal development.

Theoretical Perspectives on Childhood
Functionalism: Functionalism views family as a crucial social institution that plays a vital role in socializing children into responsible citizens. Functionalists emphasize the importance of parental roles in transmitting cultural norms, values, and skills to the next generation (Parsons, 1951). From a functionalist perspective, children are seen as future members of society who need to be prepared for their roles as adults.
Marxism: Marxist perspectives view children's roles as shaped by the inequalities inherent in capitalist systems. They emphasize the ways in which the family is used to reproduce and perpetuate class divisions. Marxist critics argue that childhood is not a period of innocence but rather a time of potential exploitation and alienation within the capitalist framework (Engels, 1884).
Feminism: Feminist perspectives raise concerns about the impact of gender roles and power dynamics on children's experiences within families. Some feminist writers emphasize the ways in which traditional gender roles can limit girls' opportunities and place greater expectations on boys (Oakley, 1974). Other feminist perspectives focus on the challenges faced by children in single-parent families or in families where both parents work, highlighting the need for more flexible and supportive social policies.

The roles of children within the family have undergone a complex evolution, driven by historical, social, and economic forces. From their previous significance as economic assets, children have transitioned into roles emphasizing emotional significance and their future potential. This transformation has been influenced by the emergence of childhood as a distinct life stage, shifting parenting practices, and changing family structures. The impact of social class, family structure, and theoretical perspectives further underscores the complex and multifaceted nature of children's roles within the family. It is important to recognize that these roles are not static but are constantly evolving in response to broader social and economic forces. Understanding the changing landscape of childhood and family dynamics is crucial for fostering environments that support the well-being and development of all children.


Aries, P. (1962). Centuries of Childhood. New York: Knopf.

Engels, F. (1884). The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. London: Penguin.

Humphrey, M., & Lee, R. (2017). Childhood and Society: A Global Perspective. London: Sage.

Lee, R. (2016). The Sociology of Childhood. London: Routledge.

Oakley, A. (1974). The Sociology of Housework. London: Martin Robertson.

Parsons, T. (1951). The Social System. New York: Free Press.

Weeks, J. (2015). Same-Sex Families: A Sociological Perspective. London: Routledge.

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