One of the more important cultural currents was first detailed in one of sociologist Neil Postman’s most provocative works titled The Disappearance of Childhood. His thesis was that children are being robbed of their innocence, their naiveté, their ability to even be a child. He contended that in our world, we ask children to embrace mature issues and themes, experiences and issues, long before they are ready.
Postman argued that the very idea of childhood is that there is a time when a young person is sheltered from certain ideas, experiences, practices, expectations and knowledge. They are sheltered from adult secrets, particularly sexual ones. Certain facets of life – its mysteries, contradictions, tragedies, violence – are not considered suitable for children to know. Only as children grow into adulthood are they revealed in ways that they can assimilate psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.
Postman’s analysis, first offered in 1982, was prescient. Today, 12- and 13-year-old girls are among the highest paid models in America, presented to us as knowing and sexually enticing adults.
Children’s literature no longer exists. Young Adult fiction is as mature in its themes as anything on the adult lists.
The language of adults and children, including what they address in life, has become the same. It is virtually uncontested among sociologists that the behavior, language, attitudes and desires – and even the physical appearance – of adults and children are becoming indistinguishable.
Even the children on TV act like adults. They do not differ significantly in their interests, language, dress or sexuality from the adults on the show, making the same knowing wisecracks and tossing out the same sexual innuendo.
But when the line between the adult world and the child’s world becomes blurred (or no longer exists) childhood disappears.
But there is a new development that must be added to the cultural current. Along with the disappearance of childhood is now the prevention of adulthood.
Writing for the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engle Bromwich note that “helicopter” parenting has been replaced by “snowplow” parenting—and it’s robbing children of adulthood.
Prompted by the recent “Varsity Blues” investigation into college admissions tampering, which has dominated the recent news cycle, the idea is that “today’s ‘snowplow parents’ keep their children’s futures obstacle-free—even when it means crossing ethical and legal boundaries.”
Or, as one parent described her parenting strategy for her son: “I did not helicopter parent him. I was a co-pilot.”
Most know that the phrase “helicopter parenting” refers to parents hovering over their child in a protective stance, overseeing any and all activities. Things have changed. “Some… mothers and fathers now are more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.”
But what does this really accomplish?
As the authors of the New York Times article observed, it accomplishes the “robbing” of adulthood. Their children may get into the elite colleges and universities – the culmination of years of snowplowing at every other level – but then these college freshmen “have had to come home from Emory or Brown because they don’t have the minimal kinds of adult skills that one needs to be in college.”
Their observations are worth noting:
“One came home because there was a rat in the dorm room. Some didn’t like their roommates. Others said it was too much work and they had never learned independent study skills. One didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options—covered in sauce.
“Here are parents who have spent 18 years grooming their kids with what they perceive as advantages, but they’re not.... The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid.”
So we have the disappearance of childhood on the front end, and the removal of adulthood on the back end. Which leaves us with what?
Neither children nor adults, innocence nor maturity.
And that’s the real “Varsity Blues.”
James Emery White
Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood.
Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich, “How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood,” The New York Times, March 16, 2019, read online.
Jennifer Medina, Katie Benner and Kate Taylor, “Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged in U.S. College Entry Fraud,” The New York Times, March 12, 2019, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.
Photo Credit: ©Thinkstock