There is an argument that childhood as we know it is disappearing with the the distinction between adulthood and childhood is narrowing. Neil Postman (1994) argued that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’.
As supporting evidence he looked at the trend towards giving children the same rights as adults, the growing similarity of adult and children’s clothing and even cases of children committing ‘adult crimes’ (murder, rape).
Postman’s theory is based on the view that communications technology is the primary thing which shapes society.
Following Aries, he suggested that in the middle ages most people were illiterate (they couldn’t read or write) and speech was the main form of communicating, thus there was hardly any distinction between adults and children.
Postman argues that childhood emerged along with mass literacy. This was because the printed word created a division between those that could read (adults) and those that couldn’t (children). This division emerged because it takes several years to master reading and writing skills, and those years of ‘not being able to read and years spent learning to read and write’ became the childhood years.
HOWEVER, Postman argues that in contemporary society, new technologies like television and the internet blur this separation and that children are now much more able to access the ‘adult world’. As a result, childhood as we know it is disappearing.
Supporting evidence for the disappearance of childhood…
- Growth of the Internet/ Social Media means parents and children are becoming more equal
- The ‘Learner Voice’ in education – and children being used on interview panels for some new teachers
- Children having the same rights as adults (UN’s rights of the child)
- ‘Kidults’ – adults becoming more like children!
The Workout Kid
The Work-out Kid is one example which suggests childhood may be disappearing…
Criticisms of the theory that childhood is disappearing
Jenks (2005) suggests that while there are increased concerns among parents about the impacts technologies such as the internet are having on children, this hasn’t resulted in the disappearance of childhood as such.
Rather, such technological changes have led to parents thinking children and childhood need to be more protected that ever – as evidenced in the increase Paranoid Parenting and social policies surrounding safeguarding.
Signposting/ Related Posts
This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology. The childhood topic is part of the families and households module. You might also like the related posts below….
- To what extent is childhood socially constructed?
- The March of Progress View of Childhood
- Toxic Childhood
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Jenks (2005) Childhood.
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