Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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The Real Loss of Childhood

  • Dr. James Emery White

    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theologyand culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he…

  • 2013 Aug 15

Two articles recently caught my attention. The first was titled “Children losing a love of stories in the digital age,” and the second “Game is up for traditional pastimes with half-hour version of Monopoly.”

Both charted different, seemingly benign, ways that the nature of childhood is changing.

In regard to the digital age, educators were lamenting how children “exposed to iPads, 3D films and games consoles are losing interest in traditional storytelling.” They cannot read in silence, or listen to stories, because they are growing up in a world containing “endless distraction.” Yet it is a love of reading that increases concentration and promotes “deep thinking.”

Little wonder that the second article charted how the toy company Hasbro, in a day of smartphone apps, social media and short attention spans, has determined that children cannot handle long games. So the latest version of Monopoly has been tweaked to find a winner in thirty minutes.

A commentary at Gizmodo.com lamented the passing of one of the “cornerstones of childhood.”

If only that were true. In reality, these are just pale reflections of the real loss of childhood taking place in our world.

One of sociologist Neil Postman’s most provocative works was 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, themes and experiences, 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 a child grows 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 -- 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.

This is why for years the books that were read in the fourth grade or seventh grade or ninth grade were chosen not only for their vocabulary and syntax, but because their content was considered to contain fourth, seventh or ninth grade information, ideas and experiences.

But when the line between the adult world and the child's world becomes blurred, or no longer exists, we lose more than the game of Monopoly.

We have the disappearance of childhood itself.

James Emery White



"Children losing a love of stories in the digital age, warns head," Graeme Paton, The Daily Telegraph, Thursday, July 25, 2013, p. 11.

“Game is up for traditional pastimes with half-hour version of Monopoly,” Rhys Blakely, The Times, Friday, July 26, 2013, p. 7.

Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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