This Is All an Invention

This didn’t used to exist, you know. 

Kids had it way harder before. Not just a hundred-plus years ago when they were valued most for their labor on the farm, but back further still—kids got married when they were still kids, they were exposed to the horrors of the world when they were still kids, they were forced to fight and fend for themselves while they were still kids.

Neil Postman points out in The Disappearance of Childhood that “childhood” is a social construct. Genetic expression makes no distinction between who is a child and who isn’t. “Children,” as we understand them, have only existed for less than four hundred years. “The idea of childhood is one of the great inventions of the Renaissance,” he writes, because it allowed children to develop. It allowed them to learn, to have a safe space to play and explore and discover themselves. 

It’s funny—today we’re concerned about how kids are coddled and sheltered (and that is a real problem), but we’re also missing the fact that the gap between adult and child is narrowing rapidly.

What caused this disappearance of childhood? The disappearance of adulthood. Childhood, as both a social structure and a psychological condition, worked when literacy and critical thinking marked an “Adult.” But when things like long-form writing and reading decline, the gap between child and adult shrinks. 

And we are seeing what that does to a society today with our own eyes. It’s no coincidence that nearly all of the emergent social media platforms and mobile apps that have taken over our phones derive so much of their market value and user loyalty from how little they make you read, write, communicate or, frankly, think.

As dads, we have to protect this great invention. We have to increase the gap between childhood and adulthood. Let them be kids… but also, make sure that you are being an adult. Be a leader. Be responsible. Be an example, a model they have to strive towards. Let them see you with a book they can’t yet comprehend. Let them be around adult conversation they can’t quite understand. Let them see you working and sweating and providing. 

Let them see an “Adult”—so they have something not just to look up to, but to look forward to as well.

P.S. This was originally sent on March 5, 2021. Sign up today for the Daily Dad’s email and get our popular 11 page eBook, “20 Things Great Dads Do Everyday.”

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