The Disappearance of Childhood


Children are the living messages we send
to a time we will not see.

Since reading Amusing Ourselves to Death, I’m a sucker for anything Neil Postman writes.  His books are provocative, engaging and challenging.  While Postman chronicles many technological advances and their effects on children, he focuses on television, especially contrasted with reading as a source of information. 

We may conclude, then, that television erodes the
dividing line between childhood and adulthood in
three ways: first, because it requires no instruction
to grasp its form; second, because it does not make
complex demands on either mind or behavior; and
third, because it does not segregate its audience.

What Postman prophesied in 1982 has come to pass; the fundamental tenets apply to a culture of texting, tweeting and Facebook updates.   He says we have adultified children (in dress, entertainment, food, clothing and language) and childified adults (in same areas).

Postman paints a bleak picture.  What he suggests is to limit media’s access to children (not the other way around, hmmm) both by limiting exposure and content and by always critiquing what you watch/hear with your children.

But America has not yet begun to think.
The shock of twentienth-century technology
numbed our brains and we are just beginning
to notice the spiritual and social debris that our
technology has strewn about us.

From this book, I gleaned one of my all-time favorite quotes:

Watching television not only requires no skills,
but develops no skills.
As Damerall points out,
“No child or adult becomes better at
watching television by doing more of it.
What skills are required are so elemental
that we have yet to hear
of a television viewing disability.”

Since I read this book, I’ve noticed other people noticing the loss of childhood: this New York Times op-ed piece, this tabloid cover I saw at the grocery store.

While it is easy to cluck-cluck at this sort of thing, what is required is major resistance to our culture.

Resistance entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion
against American culture…To insist that one’s children learn the
discipline of delayed gratification, or modesty in their sexuality,
or self-restraint in manners, language and style is to place
oneself in opposition to almost every social trend.

The Disappearance of Childhood.  Highly recommended.


8 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Childhood

  1. I would add that organized sports for younger and younger children is an inhibiter of creative play… This gratifies the parents desire of having the next great whatever… kids in our Island City neighborhood didn’t play spontaeneous games of “work up”… they didn’t know they could play ball without a coach there…  

  2. Hi Carol, This has been on my TBR list for ages.  Thanks for sharing your review.  I loved the last quote.  Sometimes I feel exhausted from always swimming upstream from the culture!

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