How And When Does Childhood End?
Updated December 11, 2018
Reviewer Deborah Horton
When you think of your childhood, what do you imagine? Do you only include the events in your prepubescence? Do you include your teenage years as well? Some may even include their early adult years, where they feel young and naive.
It's a question you may not have thought about too much, but it makes for an interesting topic to discuss. In this post, we'll look at the concept of childhood and see when it begins, when it ends, and everything in it that can affect you when you're an adult. Let's discuss it.
When Is Childhood?
Let's first answer the question about whether or not adolescence is a part of childhood. Biologically speaking, one's childhood ends at adolescence. Your body matures and stops growing. Many psychologists will consider this the end of childhood.
However, socially, many consider adolescence an extension of childhood. In most societies, you're considered a minor until you reach a certain age, and the responsibilities society thrusts upon you usually don't happen until you reach the legal age.
So there is a bit of subjectivity to this question for sure. You could divide your early life into your childhood and teenhood, as being a teenager is quite influential when it comes to what you are today.
The History Of Childhood
In our society, children are seen as innocent and in need of protection. We create entertainment and activities centered around a child's mind, which is imaginative. Few of us want to expose our children to certain concepts or ideas until they're old enough to handle them. However, history has shown it always hasn't been this way.
If you look at some depictions of children throughout history, they are almost depicted as small adults. As soon as they were old enough to walk, they were assigned jobs, had a tough upbringing, and had a childhood nothing like most of ours.
As society progressed, we took a second look at children. Some of us realized the innocence of childhood and how childhood has a big influence on who we are today. The modern beliefs on children came into the mainstream around the 19th century, and have evolved ever since.
Modern psychology has since then given us a look into the brains of children and how they evolved. There has been quite some fascination with the concept of childhood and how your childhood shapes you into the person you are today. Let's look at how childhood is usually divided.
The Parts Of Childhood
Childhood is divided into two parts: early and middle.
It's debated on when early childhood starts. Some say that infant and toddler stages don't count as your childhood. Most of us can't remember anything before the age of 3, so that does make a bit of sense. However, others may say that childhood does include infancy as well. Regardless, the age when your early childhood ends is considered to be eight.
In this stage, children are learning. They are talking with one another, experimenting with the world around them, and adults are always watching them. This is the stage where the child and their parents or guardians start bonding as well.
Middle childhood starts at nine and ends around the pubescent years. At this stage, the children begin to mature a bit. They have friends, their talents may show, they may be able to do certain tasks independently. There are signs of maturation, especially during the preteen years.
As mentioned before, this is when childhood biologically ends. In society, however, adolescents are considered children by many. Their bodies are maturing, but they are still considered too irresponsible to live independently or do certain adult tasks. In this stage, they are learning more about their sexuality, and their bonds and independence continue to grow.
These are the stages of childhood. As you can see, there is some subjectivity here. You can include or exclude your infancy or adolescence as part of your childhood. With that said, how influential is your childhood when it comes to shaping you up to becoming an adult? You know it's important, but exactly how important is it? Let's find out.
How Does My Childhood Shape Me?
There are many situations in childhood that may seem insignificant, but have a large impact on who we are today. Here are just a few examples.
- A supportive family will more than likely improve one's academic performance and live performance, and vice versa. This does make a lot of sense. If your childhood was filled with parents who didn't care about you and raised you in an unloving environment, you may grow up not to care about the world around you. There are exceptions, of course.
- An overprotective parent who micromanages everything you do may cause you to become too dependent on others as you reach adulthood. While a parent should protect their child and keep them out of danger, the child should have room to make decisions on their own and have some independence.
- A child who experiences their parents divorcing at a young age may have trouble with relationships as they grow older. They may feel insecure or fear their partners divorcing them.
- Children who receive harsh, corporal punishment may develop anger issues or have trouble performing as they grow older.
- On the other hand, children who are not disciplined may not learn the valuable life skills they need.
Childhood Psychology Theories
Ever since the development of modern psychology, there have been many theories that have tried to explain how childhood works. These include:
- Freud and his theory of psychosexual development were one of the earliest ones. He believed that your childhood and your unconscious desires are what made you the person you were today. He believed that childhood was divided into stages, such as oral, anal, and so on. While this theory isn't used much today, it's still worth exploring.
- Erikson's psychosocial theory. This involves stages that are divided into struggles. For example, infancy involves trust vs. mistrust. You can trust your caregivers, but you may mistrust other children or adults. Early childhood involves autonomy vs. shame. This model is another one that's worth reading.
- Piaget's theory. This one involves different stages. The sensorimotor stage occurs during infancy, where your knowledge is only limited to your senses around you and what you can do with your arms and legs. Between two and six, the child enters the proportional stage, which involves language. Children are not logical and do not understand others' points of view, but they are still able to talk. Then, there's the concrete operational stage, which lasts from seven to adolescent. This is when a child starts to understand logic, but may still have trouble grasping certain concepts. Finally, there's the formal operational stage. This lasts until adulthood. You can think about abstract concepts, and you start learning other forms of logic too.
These are just a few theories of childhood. There may be a bit of truth to all of them, or perhaps we're still far away from understanding how childhood works. Either way, it's an interesting read regardless of who you are.
At any age, trauma can affect you, but childhood is when trauma may shape you the most. Trauma can be physical, verbal, or sexual, and it can lead to low self-esteem, violence, or other negative consequences.
As children, our brains are still early in development and are quite delicate. If someone is constantly putting you down, an adult may realize that's just the opinion of one person. A child, who may see this person as an authority figure, may believe that to be the word of truth, and it's hard for them to shake off that mentality.
Childhood trauma is quite common, with more than half of the US population having some form of abuse or a tough situation during childhood. Obviously, this will differ depending on severity, but it's a bit jarring to know that 60 percent of the population experiences trauma. About a quarter of children will have trauma before preschool age. Two percent may experience sexual assault.
Despite our society seeing children as innocent and in need of protection, there are others who will still mistreat children and then wonder why they grew up to have issues.
If you have childhood trauma, there is hope.
One of the biggest ways to improve your well-being is to revisit your childhood and relieve any past traumas you may have. Even if you don't remember the trauma, it may be locked away in your mind. Talking to a therapist can help you to pursue your goals while trying to move on from a bad childhood.
Sadly, we can't relive one's childhood, but we can be able to take the bad and make it into a learning experience. If your childhood wasn't the greatest, consider talking to a therapist and see what they can do to help.