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The Disappearance of Childhood

  • Date Submitted: 09/21/2011 11:43 AM
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Neil Postman

Chapter 1

When There Were No Children

As I write, twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls are among the highest-paid models in America. In advertisements in all the visual media, they are presented to the public in the guise of knowing and sexually enticing adults, entirely comfortable in the milieu of eroticism. After seeing such displays of soft core pornography, those of us not yet fully conditioned to the new American attitudes toward children yearn for the charm and seductive innocence of Lolita.

In cities and towns throughout the country the difference between adult crimes and children's crimes is rapidly narrowing; and in many states the punishments are becoming the same. Between 1950 and 1979 the rate of serious crime committed by those younger than fifteen has increased one hundred and ten times, or eleven thousand percent. Old-timers may wonder about what happened to "juvenile delinquency," and grow nostalgic about a time when a teen-ager who cut class to smoke a cigarette in the school lavatory was considered a "problem."

Old-timers will also remember when there existed an important difference between the clothing of children and adults. Within the past decade the children's clothing industry has undergone such rapid change that for all practical purposes "children's clothing" has disappeared. It would appear that the idea put forward by Erasmus and then fully accepted in the eighteenth century—namely, that children and adults require different forms of dress—is now rejected by both classes of people.

Like distinctive forms of dress, children's games, once so visible on the streets of our towns and cities, are also disappearing. Even the idea of a children's game seems to be slipping from our grasp. A children's game, as we used to think of it, requires no instructors or umpires or spectators; it uses whatever space...


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