Constructing sick child in hospital

Design of hospital wards and symbolic practices try to maintain continuities with life at home.  For young people though, the “childhood” presented may not resonate with their own sense of self and identity.  “Sick child” contradicts modern cultural values of children being “priceless”, the value placed on futurity.  Great Ormond St originally treated only children between 2 and 10yr – beyond that was considered not to need any different treatment!

Childhood now up to 18, according to UNCRC.  The existing watershed of 11yrs and entry to high school is not recognized in hospitals.  Children’s wards not seen as being scary, rather full of familiarity.  Nor a place for respite from work, duties – rules exist about when TVs can be used etc that mirror school routines.  The fact that family members continue to provide care  is another continuity.

For young people however, things are rather different.  They dislike the baby-ish aspects of ward decor or age-inappropriate toys/facilities.

The institutionalization of childhood has led to young people spending less time in adult society, or with their family, and more in age-based institutions – even when at home, they can spend a large amount of time communicating with their peers, away from the gaze of their parents.  This does not happen in hospital.  It is difficult for friends to visit, and mobile phone use is restricted.  And the strangeness that does exist in hospital can create a sense of social isolation – this being an environment your friends wouldn’t want to be in.

For YP, being in hospital curtails their (new) independence, and subjects them to intense parenting that they may no longer be familiar with.  Little room for possessions, for personalization.  Loss of privacy esp bathrooms a concern.

Allison James, Penny Curtis (Sheffield) Sociological Review, Vol. 60, 754–772 (2012) DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2012.02132.x