What Medieval Europe Did with Its Teenagers

Parents of teenagers know the agony of dealing with children who are near-adults but not quite ready to be on their own. The natural rebellion against parents and family can leave you pulling your hair out. We hear about how adolescence didn’t exist in older times, and how boys went to work and girls were married off at puberty. This was not always true, as teenagers still needed guidance and job training. In medieval times, there was a system in place for parents to deal harshly with children going through that difficult period.

Around the year 1500, an assistant to the Venetian ambassador to England was struck by the strange attitude to parenting that he had encountered on his travels.

He wrote to his masters in Venice that the English kept their children at home "till the age of seven or nine at the utmost" but then "put them out, both males and females, to hard service in the houses of other people, binding them generally for another seven or nine years". The unfortunate children were sent away regardless of their class, "for everyone, however rich he may be, sends away his children into the houses of others, whilst he, in return, receives those of strangers into his own".

It was for the children's own good, he was told - but he suspected the English preferred having other people's children in the household because they could feed them less and work them harder.

Besides that, a strange master and a binding contract could often keep an adolescent on the straight and narrow better than a parent who loved him unconditionally. It didn’t always work out, especially for older teens who spent their master’s money on "harlotes… dyce, cardes and other unthrifty games.” The BBC News Magazine has more on the medieval system of dealing with teenagers, and some specific stories of young people growing up in apprenticeships. -via Digg


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