Informit article: Remembering childhood

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It is nearly forty years since Neil Postman wrote The Disappearance of Childhood. He argued that the idea of the child that we had taken for granted in the West since the late years of the nineteenth century was fading, rapidly. That idea, long in the making, was one in which children had become the emotional heart of the family; they were ‘priceless’, as Viviana Zelizer has it. By the midtwentieth century the concept was at its height. Nothing was too much for them. But by 1985, when Postman wrote, while the emotional value placed on children had not changed – if anything, it had been amplified – the management of what had become a cherished concept was under threat. We assumed that children and adults operated in separate spheres, more or less. Children didn’t work, while adults did; they were compulsorily educated, and adults weren’t; and, by and large, they were shielded from most of the less pleasant aspects of adult life; they were, or ought to be, carefree. But according to Postman, the idea we had naturalised was being undermined, and the engine of this, of all things, was television. He called it the ‘total disclosure medium’: television, with its indiscriminate messages and information, was slowly eroding the distinction between adults and children, to the detriment of both.

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