A new single volume, A-Z reference book might be described as “everything you ever wanted to know about children and childhood but never even thought to ask—the coverage is meant to be authoritative, balanced, humane, and eye-opening,” says Richard Shweder.

U. CHICAGO (US)—A group of leading experts has created a reference book featuring the latest information on medical, psychological, educational, and legal issues related to children and their development from birth through adolescence.

Drawing from a variety of disciplines, the contributing authors crafted the 529 entries that make up this nearly 1,200-page reference volume. The editor-in-chief of this decade-long project is cultural anthropologist and psychologist Richard Shweder, who leads research on human development at the University of Chicago.

Articles and supplemental essays in The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion provide readers with additional insights on subjects related to development, such as how children view race and how different cultures prepare children to enter adulthood. The multicultural approach is intended for parents and professionals to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of childhood in the United States and around the world.

The single volume, A-Z reference book might be described as “everything you ever wanted to know about children and childhood but never even thought to ask—the coverage is meant to be authoritative, balanced, humane, and eye-opening, and the book is even fun to read,” says Shweder, the William Claude Reavis Distinguished Service Professor in Comparative Human Development.

The University of Chicago Press published The Child, which Shweder describes as a current, informative reference on topics from children’s religious rights, toilet training, and reproductive technologies, to family rituals, respiratory diseases, or understanding how children learn.

The book also looks at the cultural, historical, and legal aspects of childhood, as well as the symbolic worlds of language and literature that are most relevant to children.

“There has been a general tendency for the state to take more responsibility for the care of children. The world has become more child-focused,” Shweder points out.

Issues of child abuse become particularly important for policy-makers trying to decide how to craft laws in the best interest of the child. In 16 countries, that eagerness has led to laws that protect children from spankings by parents.

Nevertheless, even as the world globalizes, great diversity continues to exist in family life norms and ideals for “normal” child development.

Adoption is another area in which cultural and legal issues arise. In some cultures, individuals other than the biological parents raise the children within those societies. By contrast, U.S. laws governing adoption are strict, and Americans’ understanding of what constitutes a family has changed; more international adoptions take place and people create family units in which the members don’t all look alike, the book points out.

While open-minded about the various ways that many issues in growing up can be experienced, the encyclopedia also aims to enable readers to evaluate and contextualize what they learn from medical, psychological, and legal professionals and to make more informed uses of their services. For example, some parents have shunned vaccinations and fear they are a possible cause of autism. The book notes: “Several studies, many professional panels, and even congressional hearings in the United States and Europe have definitely ruled out any association between the two.”

Other research in the encyclopedia provides data on how popular music lyrics and video games affect children, pointing to studies that show music lyrics are not as harmful to children as violent video games might be.

The book’s summaries about childhood complement information on issues related to policy. The diversity of America’s child-age population plays a big role in understanding the needed response, Shweder points out.

“The population under 18 in the United States is both the poorest and most culturally diverse part of our society,” he says. “Among that group, 42 percent are members of racial and ethnic minorities and about half of those are the children of immigrants.

“Dealing with the issue of diversity is important for everyone.”

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