• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Children as Mini-Adults

Fascination with children who live without adult supervision.


April 12, 2017

While much of my household succumbed to a variety of viruses this month, I ended up spending much time watching children’s television with my kids. Something that struck me was the amount of shows where the children are left to fend for themselves while their parents are lost, missing, or just preoccupied. I don’t claim that this type of television is a new phenomenon. I remember watching Party of Five in the 1990s about a group of children left to raise themselves when their parents die in a car accident. Incidentally, while I found the program enjoyable when I was in my twenties, it’s horrifying to watch now that I have children of my own. 

Today, though, shows where children are alone seem plentiful. Nickelodeon just finished airing Hunter Street, which is about five children whose foster parents suddenly disappear. They are forced to hide the fact that they are by themselves and find their parents in this comedic/suspense program.

The kids also been engrossed with Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the children novels first published in 1999, where orphaned children are forced to fend for themselves against evil or well-meaning but useless caretakers. My children love Just Add Magic on Amazon, about three pre-teen girls who inherit a magic cookbook and are thrust into a world of magic while hiding their newfound skills from their parents. In the first season, the girls have to save one of their grandmas from a magic spell. The Loud House, on Nickelodeon, is an animated series where the children in a large family (11 kids) are mostly on their own. While their parents are around, they are clearly secondary characters. We don’t even see the full face of the parents until the second season.

I’m wondering why there is this fascination with children left on their own, unable to rely on the adults in their world. I see it, in part, as a reaction to the perception of overparenting/helicopter parenting in our culture. As more parents became involved in every aspect of their children’s upbringing, negotiating everything from play dates to college applications, these worlds imagine children that are coping without parental intervention. Even the newly released animated movie Boss Baby, which I admit to not having seen, seems to envision a future world where overparenting is brought to its unpleasant extreme, and the babies and small children of the world are now running it.

In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman recognized a world where the boundaries between adults and children have been blurred. Do children become miniature adults when Postman’s vision is fully realized? And, what does that make adults?


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Laura Tropp

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