Traditional value systems

The significance of the child within the family unit can be determined by the “utility value” parents attribute to the child.

The way parents bring up their children, their values and attitudes, the reciprocal rights of negotiation between parents and children, etc. are reflected in this “utility value”. Varming (1988) supplies examples of this.

Utility values can vary greatly, both on the social and personal level, but are primarily intended to support parents’ desire to fulfil certain needs, ranging from emotional compensation to the certainty that later on in life the child will learn to take part in obligatory activities (most definitely not free play) which the parents will be proud of.

Regardless of how children have been regarded back in history, there is a certain pattern in the conditions under which children live, i.e. that in any society children are required to act in a way which corresponds to that particular society’s needs and requirements.

This connection between the type of society in which they live and children’s activities in the transitional phases between one social structure and another will always cause family problems and conflicts simply because the task of deciding what is the most correct, most useful and most sensible course of action is far from easy.

For example, around the turn of the century, the conflict between the need for children to work and the need for them to go to school was problematic because, among other things, many families needed the children’s earnings to ensure their economic survival.

In transitional periods, many of the existing, natural and apparently eternally valid social balances and conventions are disrupted and new ones occur and have to be learned by the society’s children and adults.

This applies, of course, also to toys and play. Increased competition and tougher demands for education make parents sceptical of the utility value of play and the significance of toys, even for very young children.

By contrast, other parents attribute great and overwhelming significance to togetherness, reciprocal play, play with toys and toys!

It is apparent, however, that the general attitude to this problem is demonstrated by the families’ attitudes to children - attitudes which include the family’s interactive and communicative patterns which form the basis for their life pattern and lifestyle.

Bonfadelli (1981:283) presents the family’s communicative complex in two opposing dimensions:

- a social oriented (emotion-oriented) and

- a concept oriented (content/case/opinion-oriented) dimension

These two dimensions (which, incidentally, are closely related to older, socio-cultural models for “upbringing” and communication within the family unit) motivate the contact and communication which occurs between adults and children. The dimensions are reflected in play - in the way in which children are permitted to play. They are possibly also reflected in the choice of toys. See the model for social and concept-oriented interaction.

The content is characteristic for behavioural patterns and aims. On this basis, classical and traditional value systems can be formulated:



(split into three spheres)


* Basic universal values

   e.g. trust, candour, sympathy, forgiveness, etc.


* Instrumental values

   the preferred forms of behaviour: e.g. obedience,

   politeness, logical action, inventiveness, honesty, etc.


* Terminal values

   the desired forms of existence: e.g. self-respect,

   recognition, happiness, friendship, freedom


Based on the extent to which parents exercise power over their children by using open or concealed discipline and sanctions of various kinds, Bonfadelli describes four different types of family (“family topologies”), each of which emphasises different interactive dimensions:


The laissez-faire family                    emphasises none of the dimensions


The protective family                        tends to emphasise the socially-oriented dimension most


The pluralist family                            emphasises the conceptual dimension


The consensual family                     emphasises both social and concept-oriented dimensions



Table of Contents