Children's freedom from all that is both exhilarating and threatening. Through history, cultures have tried in various ways to domesticate, deny, sentimentalize and sanitize childhood's tumultuous churn. Idealized by the ancient Greeks, children are "strangely absent from art" for centuries after the classical period, writes Joan Bel Geddes in "Childhood and Children: A Compendium of Customs, Superstitions, Theories, Profiles, and Facts." Again and again, into the Renaissance and beyond, the most frequently depicted children (the Christ child and baby John the Baptist) are represented as serious miniature adults.
It was only with the rise of compulsory education and restructuring of the family, in the 17th and 18th centuries, that children began to remain children beyond their earliest years. And even at that, as Dickens and others documented, many were thrust into the workplace -- as they are throughout the developing world today.