I will be looking at whether children who commit crimes should be seen as responsible for their actions. Initially I will look at the three different approaches: scientific approach, this seeks objective facts about children through observations and experiments; a social constructionist approach, different world views where children come from different class and places; an applied approach, gives practical issues for example, how children should be brought up with support and services.
I will also explore the discourses which are mainly linked to a social constructionist approach, these are: the puritan discourse where children are seen as devils; the tabula rasa discourse where children are seen to have a blank slate and the Romantic discourse where children are seen as innocent and sweet. I will also compare Jane Ribben's ideas to the above discourses and look at the parents views on childhood from Audio 1 Band 2 Changing Childhoods.
Throughout the essay I will take the approach that children should be seen as responsible if they are shown to be responsible for the crime they have committed. A scientific approach is used to show how children develop by using experiments. Jean Piaget, a developmental theorist, used experiments to check children's stages of development. He broke down his stages into different age groups, making it very black and white; a child should, according to Piaget's view, do certain things at a certain age. He used experiments such as the liquid task.
The child is shown two identical transparent beakers, each about two thirds full of liquid. The experimenter then pours one of the beakers into a taller narrower beaker, this is then put next to the first beaker full of liquid and the experimenter asks the child which has more in. Piaget believed that at different ages the children would state different answers.
By using these experiments, Jean Piaget realised that children's development was a lot more complicated, however he believed you could answer the question 'what is a child', by using science. Answers to the question what is a child? Can be found through well conducted scientific research'. (Understanding Childhood p. 14) Kohlberg also used similar experiments and theories. He devised levels and stages which children had to go through to reach maturity and used moral dilemmas to see how children react. He then used this information to understand at what level of development the child was at. Kohlberg also believed that children's moral development is influenced by their upbringing.
During his studies he realised certain children mature quicker when they are from certain classes and backgrounds. These scientific approaches are used to assess at what age a child reaches a certain level of maturity. 'Thus what a scientific approach offers here is a means of assessing whether or not an individual child has reached a particular level of cognitive competence and moral understanding'(understanding childhood p. 18) A social constructionist approach looks at different world views of children and the different ways in which they are treated if they have committed a crime.
Countries like the U. K will try to rehabilitate the child within a unit, where the child is placed to be offered therapy and intensive social, emotional and educational support. 'They treat the children as in need of help, rather then in need of punishment' (understanding childhood p. 19) Social constructionists approach is different to scientific approaches in that scientific approaches are seen to gain fact, whereas social constructionist approaches are seen to unfold facts and believe that views differ in different cultures.
Perceptions and understandings vary between one culture and another and from one point in history to another' (understanding childhood p. 24) Social constructionists see children not as facts but rather as social constructions, understanding who and what they are and understanding them socially. It takes a critical stance towards knowledge and looks at where the children come from, the law and the impact of theories, such as child development. An applied approach looks at what can be done for children through services and support.
There are two ways to look at the applied approach. The first is to look at law and practice, for example, how to protect children, the second is to look at how children should be treated. There are two ways that this approach deals with child criminals. The welfare model, mainly used in the U. K through the children's act 1989 looks at why the child would commit a crime, for instance are they being mistreated? Do they have other issues? And how could they be helped through therapy to gain self esteem and self confidence.
The welfare model views children who do wrong as doing so because they have themselves been mistreated and/or deprived' (understanding childhood p. 31). The second is the justice model. This draws a lot on scientific approaches where the child can be proved to understand what they are doing and therefore should be punished. 'The justice model rests on the assumption that children, once they can be held at least partially responsible for their misdoings should be treated as criminals and subjected to punishment'. (Understanding childhood p. 32)
Looking now at discourses and seeing how children are looked at through these, we can see people hold very different views on what children are. Looking first at the Puritan discourse, children are seen as evil and sinful. Thomas Hobbes an English philosopher believed all children were evil and that it was the parent's responsibility to constrain these traits through discipline. The tabula rasa discourse is Latin for blank slate; it is believed children are born with no evil or goodness. The philosopher John Locke believed in this. He believed with guidance children would take the good route and not the evil.
The romantic discourse sees children as innocent. Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed children were born innocent and good and believed that it is only through experience that they learn evil. He believed children should have a chance to be children and enjoy childhood. Linked to the above discourses are Jane Ribben's ideas about children. Through her research into people's views on childhood she found that people viewed children as natural innocents, like the romantic discourse, as little devils, like the puritan discourse and as small people, which are linked to the tabula rasa discourse.
Finally I will look at the parent's views of their childhood and their children's childhood from the audio clip, Audio 1 Band 2 Changing Childhoods. The overall view of the parents is that they had life harder as children; they treated their parents as parents and not as friends. There were no TV or computer games but the streets were a lot safer to play in compared to today and very little drugs or crime around. The parents feel that their children get away with a lot more today as punishing children is frowned upon.
They also feel that children have more freedom to socialise and have more opportunity to gain a good education. Looking at all the approaches and discourses above, it is difficult to answer the question 'Should a child be responsible'? If we just used the scientific approach children would be put onto levels, but is this reliable? If a child can commit a crime then surely they can beat a system of experiments. If we used the social constructionists approach then we would look at where the child comes from and why they may have done what they did.
In most cases this can be used successfully if a child is being mistreated etc as this may lead them to crime, but what happens when they are from a stable home and still committing crime. If a child was labelled with the Puritan discourse then they would be seen as evil no matter what. However, if they are labelled with the romantic discourse then they are seen to have been led in the wrong direction and be in need of correction. If we look at the way we treat our children today with less discipline and more freedom, this could be a reason for children to commit crimes.
Without the guidance from a responsible parent then children can easily go off the rails but this is not the child's fault, this is the fault of the parent. To answer the question we need to bring all of the above theories into practice. If from using scientific experiments and assessing the social background to the child and what their life is like at home, a child is then seen as responsible, and then yes they should be responsible for their crime.