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The Disappearance of Childhood

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  1,439 ratings  ·  173 reviews
From the vogue for nubile models to the explosion in the juvenile crime rate, this modern classic of social history and media traces the precipitous decline of childhood in America today ˆ’and the corresponding threat to the notion of adulthood.

Deftly marshaling a vast array of historical and demographic research, Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, suggests that childhood
Paperback, 192 pages
Published August 2nd 1994 by Vintage (first published 1982)
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Nov 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting, and not terribly encouraging. I wish there were a 21st-century update. Writing in the early 80's (updated in 1993), Postman observes that children are being treated like little adults, and adults are beginning to act like children. Pubescent girls are held up as sex symbols in advertising; children's games (hide and seek, hopscotch) are disappearing and being replaced by professionally organized sports leagues; grownups wear jeans and sneakers to the office and pepper their speech w ...more
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
"The shock of twentieth century technology numbed our brains, and we are just beginning to notice the spiritual and social debris our technology has strewn about us."

Postman is an honest liberal, which places him in the curious position of diagnosing ills for which his own worldview has been largely responsible. At one point in the book, he himself acknowledges this irony. He doesn't like the fruit of secular humanism; one wishes he would just repudiate the tree itself, roots and all.

Jun 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any parent
I like Postman. I think I've read most of his books. I’ve learned that I frequently agree with what he writes. He is a critic and has won the National Council of Teachers of English George Orwell Award for Clarity in Language (1986). Okay, I know, awards don't always signify, but in this case, I have no doubt he earned it. He writes with a clarity and conciseness I struggle not to envy.

The theme of The Disappearance of Childhood is that our culture is hostile to childhood. I think Postman make
Stephen Heiner
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
As usual, Professor Postman makes some solid points, way ahead of his time. However, this work falls a bit short of his previous works in losing his arguments through extended ranting. It's a short read, though, and worth the fewer than 150 pages it is.

"If one cannot say anything about how we may prevent a social disaster, perhaps one may also serve by trying to understand why it is occurring." (p. xiii)

"To use White's metaphor, the printing press opened a door upon which European culture had be
Frieda Vizel
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Thoughts, so many thoughts.

1. Neil Postman is my foremost favorite cultural critic and Ideas Man. He is not a progressive and he is not a conservative; he is just a refreshing mix of big ideas that I don't hear anywhere else and could certainly not have thought up myself. I don't experience him as preaching from a place of dogma or some sinister self-serving agenda; he seems to have been a genuine humanist. What a loss that he isn't alive today to help us contextualize the hyper-connective age i
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Whether the reader agrees with the author or not, this is a compelling examination of the history of what western civilization thinks of as "childhood", its present and future trajectory and why we should care. My five stars indicates that I feel this should be a MUST READ for all.

The copy I read was from the library. Now I must get my own copy and mark it throughout.

As a personal post script, upon reflection I think the main difference in the way my husband and I were raised is that he had a te
Aug 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I rediscovered and reread this little gem of a book in going through my shelves attempting to bring some order to them. I read it when it was originally published in 1982, at a time when our three children were respectively 12, 8 and 4, and its message seemed especially important and relevant. Mr. Postman advances the idea that the existence of a true childhood was not possible in medieval times and before, and only became possible and important with the invention of the printing press and the ...more
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
In this book, Neil Postman argues that (a) childhood is a social construct, not a biological fact and (b) childhood is disappearing because of television and modernity in general. The former is debatable but defensible (his exclusive focus on Europe/America leaves significant holes in his argument), but the latter is just ridiculous. It has been 30 years since this book was originally published, and as someone who went through childhood in the period since, I feel pretty comfortable saying that ...more
Feb 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I gave this book 4 stars because even though I disagree with how Mr. Postman came to many of his viewpoints, I agree with many of his conclusions. His position on how the media of today has destroyed the family and childhood was fascinating.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think Postman is a modern prophet. This book was wonderful, but not quite as good as his other books. I think this book is less about childhood than it is about technology and TV, which he covers more fully elsewhere.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good Heavens! It's been almost 30 years since the last edition and we have unprecedented amounts of child abuse, the graphic novel is the current thing, and the state of our education system ... varies, to say the least. Welcome to the new middle ages/dark ages/pre-enlightenment era. ...more
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A blog I frequently read on the intersection of faith and technology has made mention several times of Neil Postman, and I finally decided to check out one of his books. The thread running through most of his commentary is that technology is a Faustian bargain: it adds something to our lives, but always comes at a price. Sometimes that bargain is apparent from the outset, but most frequently the trade-off only becomes known years or generations later, and usually in ways the inventors never expe ...more
Minotaur Mangum
May 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Postman considered this his most important work, and I am inclined to agree. I prefer it to his much more well-known Amusing Ourselves to Death, which I found somewhat underwhelming (whaddya gonna do if you've already read Huxley/McLuhan/Ellul/Kaczynzki?). The Disappearance of Childhood is prescient, and even more urgent today.

The thesis is a direct moral application (as all of Postman's work is) of Marshall McLuhan's idea that "the medium is the message." That is to say, it is the material-phe
Daniëlle Van den Brink
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
"The traditional assumptions about the uniqueness of children are fast fading - For adults, play is serious business. As childhood disappears, so does the child's view of play."

Postman undertakes an impressively extensive research into the creation, the peak and the disappearance of childhood. The concept of childhood has changed in meaning over the years, as modern inventions drastically changed our way of life. Postman points to the rise of widespread literacy, technology and the new social va
Nov 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children. But it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood.” So ends this writing of media theorist and cultural critic 1994. Reading this book didn’t put a knot in my stomach but it confirmed the knot that is already there. I’ve contended enough with my own history and sense of loss of my childhood due to things outside of my control. Today as a teacher I’m confronted not only with the saturation of a ...more
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I generally enjoy Postman and his analysis of our electronic age. His best is "Amusing Ourselves to Death," and this work on childhood reflects some of the same themes and analysis. I think he overstates the grandeur of the Enlightenment and understates the intellectual vigor of the Middle Ages. One cannot read St Thomas and see his time as "dark" or "unenlightened." Literacy and childhood as a life stage seem to be linked as Postman argues, but I wonder at how accurate his assessment of Catholi ...more
David West
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'll be thinking about this one for a long time. Postman makes a strong case that the distinctions between adult and child came about after the printing press and are quickly disappearing as we become less literate. Postman shows historically where the idea of childhood came from and then demonstrates the decline of the category.

He makes much about the distinctions between reading books and watching television. I agree with his analysis on this point. I was fascinated by his take on organized sp
Hollie D
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book. The author clearly lays out the destructive nature of TV and other graphic based media. Not only is he arguing that childhood is disappearing but also adulthood is diminishing. This book was originally published in the 1980s and the evidence that he was correct is daily before us. The popular phrase, "adulting" is a prime example of what Postman calls the, "adult-child." Such things like getting dressed, paying bills, arriving on time are all things that fall under the heading "a ...more
Oct 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Quick synopsis: Widespread literacy required multi-year segregated education to teach young people how to read. This enculturated the idea that young humans are different than older humans, creating "childhood." As we move from a text based culture to a image based culture, childhood is disappearing. We don't "hide" adult information in books anymore. We live in the same information universe as our kids.
This not only turns kids into miniature adults, but infantalizes adults. Everyone becomes an
Erica Clou
I was interested in this book mainly because of the title. I thought it would be a sociological exploration of the concept of childhood and how it's changed. The first half of this short book was mostly that but then it was mostly about television dumbing down the world. In part, due to its short length, it wasn't enough of an exploration of anything. It was an okay read though. ...more
Lumumba Shakur
Apr 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Postman's basic premise is that television has so radically altered Western society that it is eroding childhood as a social construction as it had been conceived since Enlightenment. His premise is heavily Eurocentric, but nonetheless has a great deal of merit. However, I believe that in 2013, history has demonstrated that huge parallel proposition of his theory has perhaps become even more manifest with very few people seeing it as concerning. Adulthood has been so thoroughly infantalized thro ...more
Jul 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book making the claim that the distinction between child and adult has largely disappeared in our world of new media. Postman wrote this a generation ago of the emerging dominance of television and one wonders what he would make of today's internet and social media.

The cultural concept of childhood is, according to Postman, a consequence of literacy. Print media created a world of knowledge and communication acquired through education. Over time certain topics, language, and themes
Barry Kenna
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thought provoking look at how our mediums (etc Print, Radio, TV, Internet) not only affect children but how they create the concept of childhood itself and are responsible for the gradual disappearance of childhood as we know it. The author seems to be saying that TV and the misuse of the internet can be seen as improved means to unimproved ends. It leaves you asking what are the advantages technological progress if it is not rooted in some form of moral framework. This book does not make some a ...more
Apr 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: child psychologists, teachers, parents, conservitism is a plus
Although I don't agree with EVERYTHING that was written (because I do seem to lean more towards the "liberal" side of things), I still give this book four stars, because of the way it was written. This book does raise some thought, and gives very interesting historical and psychological facts. The author did repeat himself, quite a few times, regarding the television, which did get "old" at times. I'm very glad I picked this one up, because I have learned a lot and my mind has been opened even m ...more
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Neil Postman passed away in 2003. I wonder what he would think of today's (2019) American culture, children, and adults? This book (of course) stops with the impact of TV on childhood. It would be interesting to read a contemporary book about how 21st century's social media impacts childhood. ...more
Pippa Robson
Jul 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting view on childhood in the "modern" world. Appropriate for it's era but now rather out of date as it fails to include any mention of the effect of the internet on the young. ...more
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Brilliant, as always. 'Amusing' and 'Technopoly' remain Postman's greatest contributions, but for those who crave more, I recommend this as a third entry. Postman even went on record as referring to this book as his "favorite."

From the introduction:
"Unlike infancy, childhood is a social artifact, not a biological category. Our genes contain no clear instructions about who is and who is not a child, and the laws of survival do not require that a distinction be made between the world of an adult a
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: big-picture
This book would be four stars except that it contains much that was already in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology and Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Probably not a fair criticism, but for books that were written 40 years ago I think it's fair to acknowledge repetition that may have served a purpose when it was time to ring the alarm bell, but now feels redundant because the entire complex has already burned down.

The prominent medium to w
I have no idea how to rate this book. Even though there's a lot in it I don't agree with, it was quite and interesting and thought-provoking read. Then again, some of its thought-provokingness stems from lack of logic, misuse of data, nonsequiturs and the like.

Data-wise, there are few things I believe should have been addressed in the 1994 edition, and not by saying "My re-reading of the book, sad to say, leads me to change nothing of importance in it. What was happening then is happening now. O
Jackie Bethke
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
3.5 stars
I listened to this on audio, so I was doing laundry, dishes and chasing kids while listening. This book was very challenging to me, I found myself nodding in agreement with many parts, yet perplexed at Postman's attitudes during other parts.
Overall, I enjoyed the challenging of the culture (that is, the culture of 1981 and 1993). I think the main difference I have is worldview from the author. I am a Christian mom who chooses to homeschool, and so I approached this work with positivity
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Neil Postman, an important American educator, media theorist and cultural critic was probably best known for his popular 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For more than four decades he was associated with New York University, where he created and led the Media Ecology program.

He is the author of more than thirty significant books on education, media criticism, and cultural change including Te

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“The world of the known and the not yet known is bridged by wonderment. But wonderment happens largely in a situation where the child’s world is separate from the adult world, where children must seek entry, through their questions, into the adult world. As media merge the two worlds, as the tension created by secrets to be unraveled is diminished, the calculus of wonderment changes. Curiosity is replaced by cynicism or, even worse, arrogance. We are left with children who rely not on authoritative adults but on news from nowhere. We are left with children who are given answers to questions they never asked. We are left, in short, without children.” 6 likes
“In saying no one knew about the ideas implicit in the telegraph, I am not quite accurate. Thoreau knew. Or so one may surmise. It is alleged that upon being told that through the telegraph a man in Maine could instantly send a message to a man in Texas, Thoreau asked, "But what do they have to say to each other?" In asking this question, to which no serious interest was paid, Thoreau was directing attention to the psychological and social meaning of the telegraph, and in particular to its capacity to change the character of information -- from the personal and regional to the impersonal and global.” 5 likes
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