Sickness can range from just a cold to something that can take your life. Everyone goes through death in their lives, but it is a difficult situation to deal with especially when it involves people close to one’s self. In the book The Private Worlds of Dying Children, Myra Bluebond-Langner concentrates on major illness of children. She argues in the book that children are competent social actors and can create their own theories about their diagnosis and death itself. Bluebond-Langner believes that children are fully aware of their illness, treatment, and consequences even if adults that may be concern do not consult them. She also identifies that children protect their parents from the knowledge that they are dying using a range of strategies.
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Bluebond-Langner mentions that children understand the information of everything from socialization process and how they determine to not reveal their awareness is from their socialized knowledge relating to how it is acceptable to die in society. This is where Bluebond-Langner explains that children’s silence is not out of ignorance but a way to start to hide their feelings and knowledge of dying to protect their parents. Children believe that adults are hesitant to talk about it therefore they do not mention it. “We just don’t talk about it and he doesn’t ask. Probably from the other kids in clinic. I think children ask each other because they know they’ll get a straight answer, and besides, maybe they see it makes us uncomfortable. We really have a hard time talking lately, and I think he knows it and just doesn’t talk to me.” [Bluebond-Langner, 1978, 108] This statement can be argued by Jean Piaget and Susan Carey who help create the developmental theory.
The developmental theory is quantitative and experimental. It states that children have limited intellectual, emotional, and linguistic capacities. The developmental theory believes that children are not capable enough to understand their condition as adults would. Therefore you would have to clarify their condition in a way that a child would view their condition. As a result because children are incompetent, it is better to leave all information of their condition to the physician and their parents.
As shown there is a big difference to the developmental theory and Bluebond-Langner theory. The development theory is based on experimental, objective, quantitative measures. Bluebond-Langner theory research is based on ethnography (writing about people and learning about a person or a group of people), the depth of understanding the contexts of children’s everyday social lives, and the social institutions of the children. Bluebond-Langner gave children’s perspectives priority.
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Bluebond-Langner spent nine months in a paediatric hospital and observed children in various settings. She interviewed staff, parents, and the children. While observing the children she also studied documents, an example would be the child’s case studies. She believes that how children become aware of their condition is from the interactive process. This consists of the identity of the child, the experience of the illness and the treatment, and the knowledge the child receives of the prognosis and death.
The developmental theory describes how a child would understand death or even life in stages from age and bio-social development. Therefore this restates that children do not understand death and are not competent to handle all of the doubt around death. Consequently because the children are not told about their illness they are thought to die alone. Whereas if the child was aware of their illness and are fully informed and involved in the decisions about their treatment, the children’s family and the child would be more prepared for the death.
Bluebond-Langner proves that the children are competent social actors because of the interactive process by the experience they receive being seriously ill. Some ways she can determine this process is from self observation. Bluebond-Langner observed how children face death without being told directly every detail from parents or physicians. Though Bluebond-Langner shows that the children are competent and it is shown in their behaviours. “See my mommy’s red nose, that’s from me. Everybody cries when they see me. I’m pretty sick.” [Bluebond-Langner, 1978, 8] Some of the children know about their sickness because of experiences with the sickness. In other words because they are taking the same medication everyday they start to figure out the side effects and comprehend that what the medication is used for. They might know about a sickness because someone or even they might have had it one time in their life. “It’s in your chest. I’ve had chest pneumonia. A whole lot of phlegm builds up in your chest. It takes a long time, though. Well, not too long a time though. But you know, a while. It’s in your chest and your chest hurts when you breathe because you know it isn’t used to having so much in it, and then the air has to come through, but there is so much in it so much mucous. (Turns and stares at the I.V.) It takes two seconds before the next drip.” (Bluebond-Langner, 1978, 81) The children in this hospital start to understand the process of the treatment and eventually show that they are competent enough to understand what is going without anyone expressing any detail.
In conclusion, Bluebond-Langner’s research technique on proving how competent a child can be even when dealing with a difficult topic like death from serious illness is valid. She proves with this book that children can develop techniques and theories on their own sickness and are fully aware of what is going on by adapting to their environment and reacting to others and the medication. She also proves the children competency from the way they protect their parents. Bluebond-Langner does a great way of confirming that children are competent enough to comprehend and participate in decisions dealing with their own sickness.
Bluebond-Langner, M. (1978). The private worlds of dying children. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.