Friday, 10 April 2015

Guest Post by Carol Edgerley: A Look at Childhood Then and Now

Today we have a Guest Post, by author Carol Edgerely


Whilst writing the story of Marguerite, it crossed my mind to wonder just how fortunate are the children of the 21st century, relative to those of a bygone age. These days, a child's place within the family is celebrated by parents who strive to structure their time and resources around an offspring's needs and desires.

During the 19th century, a girl such as Marguerite spent a sheltered childhood almost entirely isolated from the outside world, and was expected to conform to a restricted lifestyle. Unlike this far-from-usual girl, who appalled her family by dressing like a boy to race about her father's estate on a horse. Nevertheless, she - as other girls of aristocratic status - was viewed as little more than a chattel to be disposed of at will or for the advancement of the family.

Claire, Marguerite's eldest daughter, fared little better. Extroverted and headstrong, she was frequently in trouble for flouting her mother's insistence that she adhere to the rigid social mores of the day. Every move the girl made was supervised, criticised, her attire inspected for suitability by a stern, eagle-eyed mother. Even her eventual husband was the choice of Marguerite de Merencourt, an alliance ultimately proving disastrous for the naïve young girl. It was to colour her view of the world in years to come.

During the early forties, Susanna knew an enviable early childhood. Allowed a freedom unknown to the children of yesteryear, she spent much of her time rock climbing on the beach with friends, falling out of trees, returning home at an appointed hour with grazed knees, filthy, happy and healthy. Lurking sexual predators were simply not part of the equation. She, as most other children of her time, were required to learn the lessons of life, to take responsibility for their own actions, accept occasional failure to succeed, respect their elders and behave in an acceptable manner.

No "canned" entertainment existed in those far-off days. The most sophisticated item for rainy days was a compendium of games containing cards to play Snap, a box of Tiddlywinks, and boards for Draughts or Snakes and Ladders. Story books and annuals were precious items, most children being able to read and write from an early age. Gymnastics, cross-country runs and sport in schools were mandatory if generally unpopular, therefore child obesity was an unfamiliar concept despite jam sandwiches at tea-time.

Are our children any freer, happier or healthier than Marguerite, Claire or Susanna? Now that childish pleasures of yesteryear have been obliterated by a plethora of violent digital games, iPads, mobile phones, and must-have toys relating to television productions? Discipline being regarded as a dirty word, what of school teachers hesitant to curb unacceptable behaviour for fear of legal retribution by outraged parents, or losing their jobs? Generations of children leaving school almost illiterate, some incorrectly labelled as "special needs"?

What of the daily bombardment against the evils of bacteria, skin cancer, cyber bullying, self harming, junk food and anorexia...whilst once-everyday sports and games are suppressed in the name of 'ealth 'n safety?

Despite the constraints of past generations, I sadly shake my head…

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you Carol! I really am so glad that I was able to take pleasure in all those things that you mentioned. I loved playing board games, swimming in our back garden pool, riding my bike out to the 'creek' in Australia where I grew up. I particularly enjoyed the games of make believe my friends and I created with our childhood imaginations, a special gift not to be scoffed at. How I wish my children had had these opportunities but growing up in today's worlds, we didn't live in areas that was conducive to these wonderful childhood experiences and it was hard for them to be able to do this. *sigh, sad to see the demise of this childhood playground that rarely exists anymore.