As in many past cultures, children are mostly seen and not heard. And depictions of children of ancient Egypt demonstrate this same practice. Children are acknowledged quite frequently in ancient texts, but always from the point of view of an adult.
Similar to today, ancient Egyptians acknowledged the growth stages of infant, toddler, child (through the first years of teen-age) and youth (late teens). The idea of childhood was not “invented” until at least the 17th century, so children of ancient Egypt were quickly viewed as “mini adults.” Children were often depicted in statues along with slaves for they acted as helping hands to their parents until society demanded more of them with age. Parents played the main role in teaching their children, but most sources of educational instruction were for a father to his son. Only a small group of children, like the sons of scribes or noblemen, received formal education. In this they would learn reading, writing and arithmetic. There is little known about how girls were treated, but their is record that many women were literate. And of course, royal princes received the best education of all. But regardless, all children were cherished not only because they were beloved children, but also for how they acted as helping hands to their parents.
Children inherited their parent’s possessions and wealth. Therefore, rich children generally stayed rich, and the poor stayed poor. There was also a great division between social classes, so children rarely had contact with children above or below them on the social ladder. Most villages consisted primarily of extended family to help support each other and help in the case of children being orphaned. Orphans were common since life expectancy was between thirty and forty years old. The only problem these communities created was marriage between close relatives, which may have been the cause of children being born with more fingers or toes than normal.
As many as one women per ten births died giving labor. And around 30% of children died within their first year of life. This number could have been higher, but it is believed ancient Egyptians did not practice infanticide or exposure of unwanted children. Due high levels of infant mortality, sometimes children were not given names until after they passed through the most dangerous stages of childhood. This is believed because many graves of children only referred to them as “The Osiris,” the deceased one.
There is no record for the age of which children were considered adults, but for boys circumcision may have been the mark and the beginning of menstruation for girls. Many boys became laborers and girls become housewives. And besides a few marriages arranged for children for dynastic reasons, most people got married when they were economically and physically ready.