Actress Julia Fox had some rather unconventional opinions about children and childhood in general that she wanted to share on TikTok, and the reactions from fans have been rather mixed, with many expressing surprise and no small amount of confusion. She made the claim that the entire concept of childhood and children existing was “only invented in the 18th century” so that toy companies could sell more toys. No really, we’re not exaggerating.
“Prior to that, children were just regarded as little adults,” she said, incorrectly. “That’s why, in a lot of old paintings, the children don’t look the same way that we show them today.”
What historical basis Fox has to support these claims, if any, is a mystery. There does not seem to be any evidence that the concept of childhood was “invented” in any particular point in time in any individual human culture. You can always tell when someone is making things up about human history when they generalize these statements across the vast number of different cultures that existed at any given time.
How children are considered to be, how they’re treated, and when they’re considered to enter adulthood varies widely depending on the culture, but the vast majority did not treat all small and growing humans as “little adults.” That’s particularly true for kids as young as the one Fox is buying little mops and brooms for because her one-year-old needs to learn how to survive in the “real world,” which is definitely the place that the children of rich and famous people occupy.
“I think that the idea of childhood was invented as a way to just get parents to spend a lot of money on s–t that kids don’t, is not really teaching your kid anything, you just end up raising a kid that’s like helpless and doesn’t know what to do.”
Capitalism was still in its early stages in the 18th century and the whole thing where companies invented things like holidays or shame for having armpit hair if you’re a woman wasn’t really a thing yet. What was becoming a thing, at least in Europe and other areas dominated by white people, was child labor, in which children lost large portions of their childhoods to essentially forced labor in dangerous factories.
Fox also betrays a concerning ignorance about human development by disparaging play.
“I’ve found that with my son that he doesn’t care for his toys, and he is actually more interested in, like, what I’m doing,” she said. “So I suggest everyone buy their kid a little mini mop, and mini broom, and start teaching them those life skills really young, so when they enter the real world they won’t have to outsource for everything.”
Learning to sweep is not actually that hard, and people in the real world don’t outsource sweeping like big-name actors get to do because they can’t afford it, Julia. But it’s more distressing that she doesn’t seem to have any idea what her kid is doing and that those mini mops and brooms are also toys.
Children, as well as young members of any species of mammal, engage in play in order to learn. Just because your kid is playing with blocks instead of building you a shed out back does not mean they’re not learning. Additionally, one-year-olds showing interest in doing chores are at a stage where they learn a lot from modeling — imitating adult behavior they observe from their caretakers. That kid will grow out of the toy mop pretty quick, and then she’ll have a problem.
These rather extreme statements have resulted in a lot of jokes at Fox’s expense in the comments.
“When my son was born the first outfit I gave him was nurses scrubs and he’s worked full time in the hospital ever since,” wrote one TikTok user.
“My baby carried his own bags home from the hospital after I gave birth,” cracked another.