Take it Outside: The Disappearance of Childhood

As a mother who works in communication, technology plays a key role in my daily life. My 4 year old navigates my smart phone and iPad Pro like an IT Technician, so who am I to serve as the standard for judgement when it comes to communication media being a detriment to our children. But here goes…

These days, it seems that almost immediately after birth, kids are operating electronic devices. All one has to do is take a look around. Kids everywhere are watching videos and playing games on mom or dad's phone rather than running around on the playground. Colder months, certainly don't make it easy to squeeze in outdoor activities with the kids, but taking it outside is a great way to remind us that we are human. Technology over the years has been pretty significant, and communication ethos play a large role in our social evolution.

In Postman's The Disappearance of Childhood, two things are happening simultaneously: technology is impacting social construct, and social construct is impacting technology. He argues that "Childhood is a social artifact, not a biological category". But before you judge, let's examine this. Today, we see childhood as a stage of development, but Postman may have a point. Think about it, like Postman points out, childhood is an “idea”, and probably the “most humane” and "great invention of the Renaissance Era”. Looking back, until the mid-fifteenth century, the idea of childhood did not exist. Children were simply seen as “small adults”, and “regarded primarily as economic utilities”.

Children before our time, by the age of seven were considered adults because they had the full competence to speak. Then came the printing press and they had to earn adulthood through literacy. The printing press enabled the social construct of schools and children to be classified as a “special class of people”. Little by little, decade by decade, the modern idea of childhood was being refined. As communication ethos evolved and adults became more literate, so did the idea of childhood.

The modern idea of childhood refined so much it led to protecting and nurturing of our kids. But there is only one problem. The communication environment is emerging at a rapid pace, tightening it's grip on our society and our children. And, so as Postman argues, “the transforming power” of television and its increasing pervasiveness of a visual culture in the 20th century has brought about a decline in childhood, eroding the “line between childhood and adulthood”, and ultimately will bring about its disappearance.

So, though some may disagree with Postman's thesis - "childhood is a social artifact, not a biological category", I do believe that his argument is pretty persuasive. One that the subsequent developments in communication media and technology seems to support. The evolution of communication transformed the concept of childhood during the fifteenth century, and it is that same evolution creating a decline and moving  us back toward "which literacy had freed us".

What does this mean for our children? Too much screen time and not enough out door activities is stealing their childhood. It's time to take it outside!

What are your thoughts on the effects of communications media on our children?