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disappearance of childhood

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Kala Wolhoy

on 30 March 2014

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Transcript of disappearance of childhood

Evaluation of Neil Postman's The Disappearance of Childhood
Disappearance of Childhood
Postman credits technological media, more specifically the television, as being the contributing factor to the disappearance of childhood. He argues that the graphic revolution and accessibility of information broke down the walls of secrecy that used to separate children from the adult world.
Invention of Childhood
Postman spends the first half of the book explaining how the social idea of childhood came into existence. He starts in the Middle Ages, where little to no distinction is made between younger people and the older. All parts of life, including work and sex, are in full view for younger people to witness.
Postman credits the beginning of childhood with the invention of the moveable type printing press. This increased the importance of literacy, and it created a division between those who could and couldn't read. This division enabled secrecy, which could only be revealed by learning to read and joining the adult group
Structure of Postman's Arguments
Invention of Childhood
Disappearance of Childhood
Postman's Central Thesis
"Indeed, the origin of this book is in my observation that the idea of childhood is disappearing, and at dazzling speed." (Postman, ch.1)

Postman believes that the social concept of childhood is disappearing and that technological media is to blame.
By Kala Wolhoy
My Evaluation of Postman's Arguments
Postman puts forth a great deal of evidence to support his theory of the dissolution of a social childhood. I will evaluate these main areas:
TV- shows, commercials, newscasts
Children's literature
Children's Games
Drugs and Alcohol
"But if we consider broadcast commercial television as we presently know it, we can see in it, quite clearly, a paradigm of an emerging social structure that must "disappear" childhood." (Postman, ch.6)

Postman mentions the adult situations on TV programming, the use of children to promote consumerism as well as the sexification of children within them, and the easily available reality check of newscasts are all contributing factors in his theory.

If I follow Postman's idea that childhood was created by the need to read and the existence of secrets of adulthood, then television has definitely broken down those barriers. Anyone can watch television and begin to understand it at a relatively young age, which means that we no longer have to be able to read to unlock the realities of adulthood.

Children's Literature
"Our culture is not big enough for both Judy Blume and Walt Disney. One of them will have to go..." Ch. 7

More and more children's lit is centered around teens and/or preteens acting out adult scenarios and struggling with adult themes. One might say this is just an effect of the disappearance of childhood, because the books are only reflecting the world around them. For years I have preferred to read Young Adult Fiction for poolside easy reading, because it is just as entertaining without all the language or sex. I have noticed that some of the books are getting racier and racier. If Children's lit did not initially cause childhood to slip away, then it most certainly does not help to retain it.
"The children's clothing industry has undergone vast changes in the past decade, so that what was once unambiguously recognized as "children's" clothing has virtually disappeared." Ch. 7

Postman discusses how children began to have their own distinctive dress in the 16th century, and now that trend is reversing. What was once clothing meant for adults (high heels, suits,etc.) is now perfectly acceptable for children. On the same note, previously categorized children's clothes (jeans, frilly socks, mary jane shoes) are now desired attire by adults. It seems the boundaries of clothing have blurred, and now it is hard to distinguish between some teens and coeds. Again, it is hard to tell if this is a cause or an effect of the disappearance of childhood.
"...adults can no longer claim that their taste in music represents a higher level of sensitivity that teen-age music." Ch. 7

Most kids still know way more about the most popular groups and the newest releases. Postman reports that there is a decline in classical and "adult" music that weakens the differentiation between what types of music adults listen to and what children listen to.

I don't quite agree with this one. I think the music thought of adults will always change because it will be the music of the adults' early years. Now adults could be considered those who listen to 70's- 90's classic rock. Adults of this time did not grow up listening to classical, so you cannot expect this to be their music of choice. In 50 years adult music may be classified by anyone who listens to One Direction, Miley Cyrus, or any other popular artist of today. Music is always evolving; therefore, so is the definition of adult music.
"Those adult language secrets to which we give the name "dirty words" are now not only fully known to the young (which may have always been the case) but are used by them as freely as they are by adults." Ch. 7

I think this is obvious on television and in our neighborhoods. Children may have always known about curse words, but they used to have a respect for the idea that they were crude and rude. Now I see children string together words that are too vulgar for anyone's ears. There is definitely a big breakdown of what is acceptable for the young, but I believe part of the problem is that adults have also begun using this language with more candor.
Children's Games
"There is no more obvious symptom of the merging of children's and adult's values and styles then what is happening with children's games, which is to say, they are disappearing." Ch. 7

Postman uses organized children's sports, like Little League, to illustrate his point. There is no more improvisation of the rules or wiggle room when adults get involved with children's games. Adults bring rules and regulations and take the spontaneity out of it.
I mentioned playing spotlight in my neighborhood when I kid, and several of my students had never even heard of it! I agree with Postman that the absence of more impromptu children's games and imaginative play without electronic devices is evidence towards the social group of children being merged with adults.
"Between 1950 and 1979, the rate of serious crimes committed by children increased 11,000 percent!" Ch. 7

This book was first written in the late 1970's/early 80's, so I can only imagine what that rate is now. This is not speaking of small petty crimes like vandalizing or theft. This is referencing murder, rape, drugs, etc... This can also be seen in the change in laws throughout recent history. More and more children are being tried as adults because of the severity of their crimes.

I think this may be one of Postman's most powerful arguments for his thesis. What has happened to our youth? Are they just a product of their environment? Did they just become more violent or did society as a whole become this way?
"Studies by Melvin Zelnick and John Kanter of the John Hopkins University conclude that the prevalence of sexual activity among never-married teen-age women, among all races, increased by 30 percent between 1971 and 1976, so that by age nineteen, 55 percent have had sexual intercourse." Ch. 7

Again, I wonder how much higher this percentage is now almost 40 years later. I checked the CDC and they said a survey in 2011 revealed 47.4% of teens have had intercourse. This seems to be lower, but the previous study may have had slightly different parameters.

The reality of sexual activity in children is that they do have sex and probably at much younger ages than we think. Sex is one of the big secrets of adulthood that must stay intact for childhood to exist. With the breakdown of that barrier, childhood as defined by Postman, in the social not physical sense, will no longer exist.
Drugs and Alcohol
"Alcoholism, once considered an exclusively adult affliction, now looms as a reality for our new population of miniature adults. Of other drug, such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, the evidence is conclusive: American youth consume as much of it as do adults." Ch. 7

The truth of this saddens me. Postman just laid it out bluntly. Our children have the same addictions as adults. How can they possibly be enjoying the freedoms that a childhood is supposed to afford them, when they are either fighting or learning how to abstain from these temptations? That is a heavy burden for anyone to bear, so it's no wonder that children are losing their sense of innocence.
How is this significant for education today?
The reason that Postman's theory of the disappearance of childhood is so important is because as educators we need to understand our students. Teachers today are not educating naive, innocent children. The youth of today experience life in much the same way that adults do. They have many of the same struggles, problems, and fears. Providing food and shelter may be some of the few adult responsibilities that haven't permeated most of childhood, but unfortunately there are many, many cases where children are having to become the bread winners in their family. By understanding that childhood has at least changed, if not completely disappeared, then educators can better relate themselves and the material to their students.
How is this relevant to me personally?
I was lucky enough to have experienced a wonderful childhood. It may not have been completely sheltered in all ways, but I did get to live the joy of innocence at least until my teenage years. By middle/high school, sex and drug education had stripped away some of the naivety of my life. Coupled with the pressure to dress and act a certain way the realities of adult life began to set in.

The fact that children today don't even get 10-12 years of innocence anymore worries me. I teach at a Christian school, and there are some children who have a more traditional childhood than most. Their entertainment is all monitored and restricted from language , violence, and sexual content. They dress modestly. They spend a lot of time with family and actually like it! It's impossible to keep all of the adult secrets away from them with the information available today, but their parents have definitely succeeded in giving them a few extra years of childhood.

I believe that the best way to combat the loss of childhood is for society to start shielding children from the adult secrets of sex, drugs, violence, etc. If we don't we will never stop the trend of very young addicts, parents, and anxiety sufferers.
Works Cited
Postman, Neil. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York, 1982. Kindle Edition
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