Representations of Childhood in the Media

Authored by: Debbie Olson , Giselle Rampaul

The Routledge International Handbook of Children, Adolescents and Media

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415783682
eBook ISBN: 9780203366981
Adobe ISBN: 9781134060559


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Childhood is, and has always been, an unstable concept, variously interpreted and represented according to historical, social, cultural, political and economic contexts as Philippe Ariès shows in his ground-breaking work, Centuries of Childhood (1962). Ariès’ work is regarded as a fundamental text informing study on representations of childhood, as it opens up discussions about the concept of childhood in history as well as in the contemporary period. By examining representations of childhood in visual media, Ariès showed that childhood is a relatively new idea, and that the concept of childhood changed and developed over time. Social and economic changes led to the development of a theory of childhood innocence; depictions of children as miniature adults in the sixteenth century were eventually replaced with depictions of children as distinct from adults. Children, then, came to be assigned a “special” status. Although such pictorial representations of children established a standard for what children were expected to look like and contributed to certain idealized conceptions of childhood, the idea of childhood innocence is now being questioned by some and contested by others. Images of children appearing more recently demonstrate an ideological shift as they interrogate the earlier taken-for-granted ideas about childhood innocence by presenting children as knowing, adultified, and sometimes menacing. This chapter explains how representations of children and childhood are historically and culturally situated, both reflecting values and contributing to their continual change and renewal.

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