Childhood is a dependent period of early life which prepares us for our independent phase of adulthood. It’s a time to be nurtured, to let curiosity flourish, to have the freedom to experiment safely and to learn from mistakes. Children learn language, communication, social rules, skills for employment, co-operation for relationships to flourish and to function as part of a wider community. You could describe childhood is an apprenticeship to adult life and the tricky part is retaining the important qualities that make you who you are as an individual.
Childhood can be manipulated, abused, sold, stolen and traumatised by just one adult. Conversely, childhood can be a time of porotection where playfulness, curiosity and choice are the catalyst to learning important lessons without the child even realising they are learning.
On a broader scale, childhood can be snatched away by famine, war, disease and natural disasters. If a community is lucky enough, organizations will step in to vaccinate, feed, educate, lobby for the safety of and assist the children. Sadly, I doubt that childhood returns for these young people – survival has become their priority.
UNICEF is one organization who steps in to save children and their definition of childhood is succinct, as follows:
“Childhood is the time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. It is a precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation. As such, childhood means much more than just the space between birth and the attainment of adulthood. It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years.” (Unicef http://www.unicef.org/sowc05/english/childhooddefined.html)