In the first year of the twentieth century, Ellen Key wrote her book Barnets arhundrade (1900). It was a sharp attack on the way children were looked after, among both the upper classes and the working class. The book contained a vision of a better society, expressing the hope that the twentieth century would be, as the title put it, the century of the child. Other people shared her vision. The first decades of the twentieth century saw a great mobilization of private interests and municipal and state forces to rescue children from unsuitable environments and to improve their conditions. Much of the discussion bore the stamp of a conflict between different ideals of childhood, between the romantic useless childhood and the working child. Childhood has indeed taken on new meanings. Today childhood is a long period in a person's life in Sweden - youth unemployment are defined up to 26 years of age. Childhood is filled with schooling and organized leisure activities. Many children - a majority - spend their early years in some form of pre-school care from around one year of age. School though is not started until 6 or 7 years of age. There has been a dramatic change in the view of how to bring up the sort of children who would have been regarded as delinquent in the first decades of this century. There has also been a great change in the care and definitions of physically and mentally handicapped children. We have very little historical knowledge about these processes of change and perhaps not much about what new images of childhood are created as a consequence of these processes of change. It is obvious that new ideas about where and how children should spend their growing years were formulated by the new professional and political groups that emerged during the twentieth century. It is also clear that new ideals have been formulated by the commercial interests for whom children and parents are an important market. New and old media also create new images of children. State initiatives to safeguard the health and well-being of children, such as road safety information, also influence the picture of the child, as do the children we meet in literature intended for children. But these notions is not to be taken at face value. It is images that stand in conflict to each other and notions containing inner contradictions. Many questions can be asked. What indeed has the development during the twentieth century meant for the children? What were the unintended consequences of the welfare programmes that were launched? How were new reality and new visions shaped? How does this childhood look like and by whom was this new childhood created? How, for instance, does the picture of children in literature relate to the picture of children created in the writings of psychologists and medical doctors? How does the commercial exposition of children differ from the construction of the child in school and leisure organizations? How does school's picture of the child relate to the family's perception of childhood and to the practice that is developed within the " framework of the social welfare service? It is important to stress that childhoods is never unambiguous or homogeneously constructed. Most childhoods are built up with internal contradictions and conflicting messages. The romantic childhood, that of an innocent, free growing child was combined in reality with the requirement to spend many years in school - hardly a very free and unregulated perio d. There are naturally also differences in the perception of girls' and boys' childhoods. With this overall ambition I will present a synteses of changes of childhood during the 20th century as it is constructed by social, economic, and political processes. The debate about the conditions of children and young people often arises in our own day. It is often in terms which we recognize from Sweden at the turn of the century: the crisis of the family, the inadequacy of the home, the deficiencies of school, young people's behaviour in public places, and a supposed increase in criminality. Then as now, there were calls for more institutions for the growing generation, support and advice for families, and the need for school reforms. It is therefore important to reflect about why children were or are singled out --in fact discovered -- as a political and social problem. For it is not just a matter of children who had real problems or who were a real problem. It is at least as much a matter of the emergence of new professional groups and about changed relations between adults and children, men and women, between different social classes, and about children's chances of obtaining work, or about children as an object of commercial interests. These are precisely why new ideals of childhood are created.
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 1995. , 17 p.