No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior

By Joshua Meyrowitz | Go to book overview

13

The Blurring of Childhood and
Adulthood
A Case Study in Changing Role Transitions

In the last half century, psychologists have greatly enriched our knowledge of the physiological, cognitive, and linguistic stages through which children pass as they grow to adulthood. Arnold Gesell, Jean Piaget, Erik Erikson, Jerome Bruner, Jerome Kagan, and Lawrence Kohlberg are only a few of those who have worked at plotting the course of human growth and development. Much of this research has indicated that the differences between children and adults and between children of various ages are not simply ones of degree, but of clearly dissimilar capacities and perceptions of reality.

What these studies of children have generally ignored, however, is the current evolution in the social manifestations of "childhood." It is not unusual for social conventions to change along with the publication and popularization of research findings. What is peculiar in this case, however, is that the change is in direct opposition to the thrust of the research. The psychological studies suggest the need to treat children very differently from adults, and yet the present trend is to treat children more like "little adults" and to have people of different ages share much more similar roles, rights, and responsibilities than in the past.

We might call this recent trend the "end of childhood." But that would tell only half of the story. For without a clear sense of childhood, there can be no distinct notion of adulthood. What seems to be happening in our culture is an overall homogenization, or merging, of childhood and adulthood. This chapter briefly summarizes recent changes in the social roles of children and adults and then explores the possibility that these changes are related, at least in part, to changes in media of communication.

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