Shifting Borders of Childhood, Youth, and Adulthood
Although under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, children are defined as human beings under the age of eighteen, “childhood,” “youth,” and “adulthood” are defined very differently in various contexts–all of which have consequences for actual children and young people. At what age can people drive cars, fight in wars, leave home, have consensual sexual relations, vote, drink alcohol, be tried in juvenile court, work, leave school, determine courses of medical treatment, have a say in custody disputes, be recognized as full religious citizens, be free from the threat of corporal punishment, assert financial independence, or consume “adult” music, movies, books, films, and video games? Neil Postman laments the “disappearanceof childhood” as children gain access to forbidden knowledge through digital technologies. Conversely, Marcel Danesi laments the “teen-aging” of modern culture, categorizing twenty- and thirty-somethings who act as if they are teenagers as “middlescents”: in 2002, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States defined “adolescence” as “extending from puberty to 30 years of age” and the McArthur Foundation defined adolescence as ending at age 34 (Danesi). This panel will explore real and represented “borders” between “childhood,” “youth,” and “adulthood.” In whose interests do these borders exist? Who polices them? How do these borders differ in different cultures? Have they changed over time? What are the consequences for actual children, youth, and adults of such borders? How do these borders inform disciplinary approaches of adult researchers to children, youth, and adults? How might actual children subvert these borders through their own children’s culture? How do cultural representations of children, youth, and adults function to reinforce or shift these borders?
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