There is an argument that childhood as we know is disappearing; that 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.
HOWEVER, he argues now that things 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.
Three pieces of 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!
Criticisms of the theory that childhood is disappearing
- It’s more complex than just ‘disappearance – several trends going on at once
- E.G. Children are more protected (labour and welfare laws)
- E.G. Children are more controlled (cotton wool kids)