General Characteristics of Middle and Late Childhood (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Childhood, then, is a period of self-discovery in which the child learns about himself in the course of engaging in a variety of academic, extracurricular, and recreational activities and in relating to other people. These various aspects of the child are, however, not yet coordinated into a general scheme of self as a functioning totality. The child is more or less unaware of the many discontinuities in his behavior and in his self-evaluations. For example, he may be a perfect gentleman at his friend's house but a demon at home, or vice versa, without being aware of the contradictions in his behavior. The adolescent may show similar contradictions, but he is aware of these discrepancies and tries to rationalize them, at least to himself.

In addition to finding out about himself, the child is also discovering the larger social world about him, the world of entertainers, politicians, scientists, and athletes. Often children choose individuals from these professions as persons to idealize and emulate, particularly as they discover that their parents are not as all-knowing and as wise as they had thought. By the age of seven or eight, the child has dethroned his parents from the once-exalted position they held for the child during the preschool years. Now, new gods are introduced into the pantheon of childhood. However, it is often the glamour of the entertainer or athlete, rather than his or her character or accomplishments, that attracts the child.

This does not mean that the child no longer loves his parents or that he denies the authority of the family. His family is still the center of his life. It is just that other forms of authority and other adult figures now begin to have an influence upon him, namely the peer group and his new nonparental adult idols. The child's attitude toward authority is not entirely subservient, for he does express negative feelings toward adult constraint. He does so, however, in a manner peculiar to childhood—a manner that is often missed by adults. If we listen closely to children's rhymes and riddles, we notice that they often poke fun at important adults and at adult practices and institutions. Take a recently overheard example:

Jingle bells, Bush smells, And Reagan ran away. Oh what fun it is to ride In a Clinton Chevrolet.

Such gibes, it is important to add, are shared by the group so that no child takes individual responsibility for them. In this way, the child can participate in hostile bantering about the adult world without fear of reprisal.

The dominant characteristics of middle to late childhood, then, are its traditionalism, pragmatism, and optimism. The elementary school years are devoted to discovering the self through repeated encounters with others and to discovering the world through incessant activity. Although the child is generally subservient to authority, he nonetheless expresses his underlying defiance in concert with the peer group. In this way he avoids taking individual responsibility for being disrespectful to those who maintain the balance of power.

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