How And When Does Childhood End?
By Mason Komay
Updated December 02, 2019
Reviewer Deborah Horton
When you think back to your childhood, what do you imagine? Do you only include the events that occurred during prepubescence? Do you include your teenage years? Perhaps you may even include your years as an early adult where you felt young and naive. Regardless, it's a question you may not even think about very often, though it certainly 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.
When Is Childhood?
If you're like most adults, then you probably don't remember anything before the age of three. Statistically speaking, you most like recall your childhood beginning around this age, though your memories of this time may not be very clear or accurate. In fact, you may even find it difficult to access these memories the older you get. Not to worry, however, because you're not alone; "Childhood Amnesia" is an occurrence in which our earliest memories begin to vanish.
Many psychologists will consider the age you reach adolescence to be the end of your childhood. Biologically speaking, this holds true due to the fact that this is when your body begins to mature and eventually stop growing. However, a lot of people consider adolescence to be an extension of their childhood. In most societies, you're considered a minor until you reach a certain age, and the adult responsibilities you take on typically don't happen until then. For instance, in the United States, you're considered a legal adult at the age of 18, yet you're unable to purchase alcohol until 21. Truth be told, most people around this age are barely out of high school, which raises questions regarding the comparison of adolescence and actually being an adult with real-life obligations.
The History of Childhood
In today's age, children are often seen as innocent, fragile, and in need of protection. Few of us want to expose our children to certain concepts or ideas until they're old enough to handle them. However, if you go back even a few decades or so, history has shown that things haven't always been this way.
If you look at some depictions of children throughout history, you may be surprised at how different the concept of being a child was. For instance, take the average American child in the early Industrial Revolution. Almost as soon as they were old enough to walk, most were typically assigned jobs. They had a tough upbringing and a childhood that was nothing like what most of us recall. In fact, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which regulates employment for those under 16 years of age, wasn't passed until 1938.
As our society progressed into what it is today, we slowly began to develop a different viewpoint on the innocence that is early childhood. More people began to realize its importance and how it has a major influence on sculpting who we are today. This modern belief on children came into the mainstream ideology during the 19th century and has evolved ever since.
Modern psychology has since then given us a look into the brains of children and how they've evolved as well. There has been quite some fascination with the concept of childhood and how much more complex it is than what was originally thought. Childhood can be divided into three basic stages.
Stage 1: Early Childhood
So, where exactly does our childhood begin? As previously mentioned, most of us can't remember anything before the age of three, which is why some say that infant and toddler years shouldn't count. However, others claim that childhood begins immediately upon the first day of infancy. Be that as it may, this is the stage in which children are constantly learning and developing. This is where they begin to speak with other kids and experiment with the world around them while their parents guide them. Your early childhood typically ends around eight years old.
Stage 2: Middle Childhood
Your middle childhood starts at age nine and ends around the beginning of your pubescent years. At this stage, you begin to mature into a young adult. You make friends, discover your talents, and even take on certain tasks independently. These are all signs of healthy growth and development and are commonly present during the preteen years.
Stage 3: Adolescence
Though this is biologically where your childhood ends, adolescents are considered children by many in modern society. Even though their bodies are still growing and maturing, they are commonly considered too irresponsible to live independently or do certain adult tasks. In this stage, you begin to discover more about your sexuality and feelings for others while your independence continues to develop.
How Does My Childhood Shape Me?
There are many situations throughout your childhood that may have seemed insignificant at the time but have had a large impact on who you are today. For example, a supportive family will more than likely improve a child's academic and live performance. A child that grew up in an unloving environment with neglectful parents may grow up not to care about things like grades or social status. There are exceptions, however.
Overprotective parents who micromanage everything their child does may cause them to become too dependent on others as they reach adulthood. While parents should always protect their children and keep them out of danger, that child should also have the room to make decisions on their own so that they can gain a larger sense of 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 about themselves or fear that their partners might divorce them as well. Children who receive harsh and corporal punishments may develop anger issues or have trouble performing as they grow older. On the other hand, children who are not disciplined may go on to develop spontaneous and obnoxious behavior, though this is not the case for everyone.
Childhood Psychology Theories
Ever since the development of modern psychology, there have been many theories that have tried to explain precisely how childhood works. These include the following:
- Freud's Theory of Psychosexual Development was one of the earliest examples. He believed that your childhood and your unconscious sexual desires are what made you into the person you are today. He also 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 involves childhood stages that are divided into eight struggles. As a quick example, infancy involves trust versus mistrust because you can trust your caregivers, but you may mistrust other children or adults. Early childhood involves autonomy versus shame. Erickson's model is another one that's worth reading.
- Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development includes four stages centered more-so around the development of human intelligence. This theory focuses on the age range throughout childhood in which certain knowledge is obtained and used.
Trauma from past experiences can affect you at any age, but it may have the heaviest impact on you when it occurs within your childhood. Childhood trauma can be physical, verbal, or sexual, and it can lead to low self-esteem, violence, and other negative consequences. As children, our brains are still developing and are therefore quite delicate. If someone is constantly putting you down, you may realize, as an adult, that it's just the opinion of one person. However, a child who sees this person as an authority figure may believe it to be the word of truth.
Childhood trauma is quite common, with more than half of the US population having suffered some form of abuse or tough situation during their early years. Nearly one-quarter of children will experience some form of trauma before entering preschool, while approximately two percent may experience sexual assault.
Fulfilling, Healthy Adulthood
If you or someone you know is dealing with childhood trauma, speaking with a therapist might be the best option to explore. If you're not ready to seek counseling, consider trying some of these helpful alternative solutions to make things easier.
Recognize Your Control
One of the scariest aspects of being a child is that you really aren't given much control over anything. As an adult, you hold the power to make your own decisions and deal with the obstacles thrown in your way. Recognizing the control you have now as opposed to the little you had as a child is a huge first step.
Give Yourself Closure
Sometimes, trauma can linger on for years and even decades beyond the events that caused it. Giving yourself closure is easier said than done, but if you can accomplish this, you'll have an easier time moving forward from the past.
Keep A Journal
It always helps to keep a journal handy so that you can write down your deepest thoughts and feelings on the past and how it affects you each day. Keeping track of your emotions can lead to positive health effects that may aid you on the road to recovery.
One of the biggest ways to improve your well-being is to revisit your childhood and relieve any past traumas you may have had. Even if you don't remember the experience itself, speaking to a licensed therapist at BetterHelp can help you begin your journey of coming to peace and gaining back control. We offer discreet, professional counseling that's accessible to you from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you have an internet connection). Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing a range of issues related to childhood.
"Dr. Baggs has been very helpful in helping me deal with anxiety, and I've been overall satisfied with the experience. She's helped me work through and understand trauma from my childhood, as well as help me realize I'm on the right path to getting help and improving my life. Overall a very good experience."
"Kris has been helping me for over a year and a half now. Whether it's dealing with the day-to-day stresses of work or deep-seated issues from my childhood, she brings sensitivity, insight, and gentle humor. She's also made some great book recommendations, both for the issues we're talking about and for other interests of mine in terms of social issues. She's pretty awesome and I'm happy to be able to connect with her via this platform."
Your childhood is an uphill climb of experience, growth, and development. From infancy into adulthood, it is where we sculpt ourselves into the grown-ups that we are today. Moving forward to a truly fulfilling life with enjoyable relationships is possible - all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.