Автор: Светлана Голицына​​​​​​​, педагог

What could a 14-year-old boy do 100 years ago in Russia?

In the peasant families in Russia, the children were very early taught to take responsibility and systematic work: this was at the same time the main issue of upbringing and the key to survival. And the views of our ancestors on this process are unlikely to please modern teenagers.


Константин Маковский «Крестьянский мальчик» (1880)
Константин Маковский «Крестьянский мальчик» (1880)

Most importantly - the approach to his heirs in the people’s environment was not just strict, but very strict. First, no one then considered children equal parents. And it was in the first years of the child’s life that adults saw the pledge of what kind of person he would become.

Secondly, the authority of the mother and father in peasant families was indisputable. Usually the parents were united in their views on the upbringing and responsibilities of the child, and even if they did not agree with each other, they never showed it publicly, so the child did not have a chance to "draw" one of the parents to his side.

Иван Пелевин «Дети в санях» (1870)
Иван Пелевин «Дети в санях» (1870)

Thirdly, neither with girls, nor with boys it was not accepted "миндальничать" and to pamper them зазря. Usually assignments between households were distributed by the head of the family in an orderly tone, and no one contradicted him. At the same time, for the successfully completed task, the child was always praised and encouraged, in every possible way emphasizing that he benefited the whole family.

Our reference. Child labor is the attraction of children to work on a regular basis. Currently, in most states it is considered a form of exploitation and, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the acts of the International Labor Organization, has been declared illegal. Our great-grandparents could not even dream about it. Maybe that’s why they entered adulthood perfectly prepared and adapted?

"The father of the son does not teach evil"

Василий Максимов «Мальчик-механик» (1871)
Василий Максимов «Мальчик-механик» (1871)


The age criteria for children were very clear, and, accordingly, their work responsibilities were equally clearly shared. Age measured seven years: the first seven years - childhood or "infancy". The babies were called "dite", "babe", "kuvyaka" (crying) and other affectionate nicknames. In the second seven years adolescence was coming: the child became a "boy" or a "girl", the boys were given ports (pants), girls - a long girl’s shirt. The third seven-year period is a youth. As a rule, all the necessary skills for independent life, adolescents seized already by the end of adolescence. The boy became the father’s right hand, a replacement for his absences and illnesses, and the girl - a full-fledged mother’s assistant.

Perhaps the requirements for boys were stricter than for girls, because it was from sons that future "breadwinners", "carers" and defenders were to grow up. In short, real husbands and fathers.

In the first seven years of life, the boy comprehended many elements of peasant labor: he was taught to look after cattle, ride horses, help in the field, and also - the basics of skill. For example, skill to make toys from various materials, to weave bows and boxes, and, of course, bast shoes, which should have been strong, warm, waterproof, was considered an absolutely necessary skill. Many 6- and 7-year-old boys confidently helped fathers in the manufacture of furniture, harness, and other necessary things in the household. The proverb "Take the child while it lies across the bench" was not an empty sound in the peasant families.

In the second seven-year period of life, the boy was finally enshrined in stable and diverse economic responsibilities, and they acquired a clear sexual division. For example, no boy was obliged to take care of younger brothers and sisters or to engage in vegetable gardens, but he had to learn how to plow and thresh - girls were not attracted to such physically hard work. Quite often already in 7-9 years, peasant boys began to work part time "in people": parents gave them to shepherds for a moderate fee. By this age it was believed that the child had finally "entered the mind", and therefore it is necessary to teach him everything that the father knows and knows.

Work on the ground

Владимир Маковский «Пастушки» (1903)
Владимир Маковский «Пастушки» (1903)

In the Russian villages, land tenure was a confirmation of the full-fledged male status. Therefore, adolescent boys had to work in the field. They fertilized the land (spreading dung over the field and making sure that its clods did not hamper the plow’s work), harrowed (the upper layer of the soil was loosened by harrows or hoes), a horse harnessed to the harrow or riding a horse, "when the father leads a furrow" .

If the land was lumpy, then the father would sit his son on the harrow to weight it, and himself lead the horse under the bridle. Teenagers took the most active part in harvesting. From the age of 11-13 the boy was already attracted to independent plowing. First, he was given a small plot of arable land, on which it was possible to practice, and by the age of 14 the teenager himself could confidently plow the land, that is, he became a full-fledged worker.

Care for the cattle

Another important component of the peasant way of life, which women were not trusted (they could only milk cows or goats, and drive them out to pasture). To feed, clean manure, clean the animals should have been the children under the strict guidance of the elders. The main nurse in the peasant family was always a horse, who all day worked in the field with the owner. They grazed horses at night, and it was also the responsibility of the boys. That is why from the earliest years they were taught to harness horses and ride them, to control them, sitting or standing in the cart, to drive to the watering place - in full accordance with the saying "The case teaches, torments, feeds."

Fishing classes

Were particularly common in the Russian North and Siberia, where they served as a reliable source of income. Looking at his father and older brothers, the boy first in the form of play adopted the skills of fishing and hunting, and then perfected this art.

Алексей Корзухин «Птичьи враги» (1887)
Алексей Корзухин «Птичьи враги» (1887)

Already by the age of 8-9, the boy was usually able to arrange snares for small game and poultry, to shoot from an onion, to fish or to beat it with a spear. To this list, the collection of mushrooms, berries and nuts was often added, which was also a good material aid. By the age of 9-12, a teenager could join an adult commercial artel, and by 14, after passing the probation period, become a full-fledged member of it. Then he began to make a significant contribution to the family budget and passed into the category of adult "earners" and enviable suitors.

That’s how "good fellows" grew up in peasant families - father helpers, with which parents were rightfully proud. In addition to labor education, the boys were taught clear moral principles: they were taught to honor the elders, mercifully treat the poor and poor, hospitality, respect for the fruits of one’s own and others’ labor, the basics of faith. There were two more important rules that any young boy knew by heart: First, a man should be able to protect his woman and his family, not only physically, but also materially and psychologically. According to the second rule, a man should be able to restrain his emotions and always control himself.

Read also What could a 10-year-old girl do 100 years ago do in Russia?

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