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Disappearance of Childhood
I'm trying to write a column on the disappearance of childhood, and I'm not getting very far. It was all started a couple of months ago during the Democratic debates when the candidates were asked what they thought about teaching about homosexual couples to grade 2 children. They all agreed this was a great idea.

And I thought, why in the world would you introduce sexuality--any kind of sexuality--to 7-year-olds? Is that even decent?

So the idea has been percolating for a bit, and then I saw Miley Cyrus' stunt on the weekend posing naked in Vanity Fair. Give me a break. It's like childhood has vanished.

Neil Postman wrote a book on this very topic in 1982, although back then he didn't foresee the sexualization of children to the extent that has now occurred. But his basic premise is that childhood is a new phenomenon that we're now losing. In the Middle Ages, there really was no difference between childhood and adulthood. By 7 a child was basically an adult, doing all the same chores, understanding the same jokes. They all slept in the same bed, so there were no adult secrets.

With books came the need for kids to be able to read to enter an adult land, so it took longer. And increased wealth meant that children were separated from the private space of the adult. So the basic difference between children and adults was a knowledge one. Adults knew things that kids didn't.

Those were great days, weren't they? They're not here anymore. With television, kids have an eye into the adult world that means secrets disappear. And so children are now miniature adults once again, without the maturity.

So what can we do about it? Here's what Postman wrote back in 1982, and I think it's still great advice:

But, as with all resistance, there is a price to pay. Specifically, resistance entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture. For example, for parents merely to remain married is itself an act of disobedience and an insult to the spirit of a throwaway culture in which continuity has little value. It is also at least ninety percent un-American to remain in close proximity to one's extended family so that the children can experience, daily, the meaning of kinship and the value of deference and responsibility to elders. Similarly, to insist that one's children learn
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. Even further, to ensure that one's children work hard at becoming literate is extraordinarily time-consuming and even expensive. But most rebellious of all is the attempt to control the media's access to one's children. There are, in fact, two ways to do this . The first is to limit the amount of exposure children have to media. The second is to monitor carefully what they have exposure to, and provide them with a continuously running critique of the themes and values of the media's content. Both are very difficult to do and require a level of attention that most parents are not
prepared to give to child-rearing.

Nonetheless, there are parents who are committed to doing all of these things, who are in effect defying the directives of their culture. Such parents are in effect defying the directives of their culture. Such parents are not only helping their children to have a childhood but are, at the a same time, creating a sort of intellectual elite.
Certainly in the short run the children who grow up in such homes will, as adults, be much favored by business , the professions, and the media themselves. What can we say of the long run? Only this: Those parents who resist the spirit of the age will contribute to what might be called the Monastery Effect, for they will help to keep alive a humane tradition. It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children. But it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Those who insist on remembering shall perform a noble service."

I'm ready to perform that noble service. My kids don't watch television. We keep them sheltered but not naive. We want them to be kids. And ironically, they're often more mature than their counterparts who are saturated in the media culture. It's a good warning for our day.

Now if my column will just write itself....

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At 9:44 AM , Blogger Jai said…

My kids are green and so are their friends. NOT naive, but green.

They act like children, play like children, learn like children and my husband and I DO NOT want them to grow up ANY faster than they have to.

When they question us about something they heard or saw at school (usually my oldest, 5th grade) we use it as a teaching moment, but explain at his level.

The children have plenty of time to grow and age, before I add to their "thinking" plates. If you know what I mean.


At 10:24 AM , Blogger Terry said…

Another wonderful and thought-provoking post, Sheila. It's as if our kids are under seige sometimes, isn't it? As parents we must be diligent as you noted. Thanks for the food for thought. It's too bad that more often than not we seem to be preaching to the choir though, huh?


At 2:23 AM , Blogger Shellie said…

Holy cow am I glad to read that I'm not the only one who thinks about these kinds of things. Not perfect at parenting them that way yet, but we try to let them have a childhood and teach them to think for themselves.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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