Why Childhood

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Some of us, we are told, never actually make it out of childhood. But for most of us, it’s nearly 20 years locked and coddled in culturally encouraged immaturity, that sheltered, nurtured “practice period” leading up to adulthood.

Thus it has been for millennia. No other creature, flying, swimming, crawling or galloping enjoys such a luxuriously protracted rearing. But why wait to leave home, to work, or to reproduce? Anthropologists are digging to uncover the purpose of childhood.

The obvious: We, as kids, need all that time to fill our brains with skills and knowledge. But perhaps there’s more, and looking at the other end of life, old age, explains why we spend so much time, early on, on hold. Growing up, sloooooowly.


Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author, “Mother Nature,” professor emeritus of anthropology, University of California Davis

John Bock, associate editor, Human Nature, assistant professor of anthropology, California State University Fullerton

Douglas Bird, assistant research professor of anthropology, University of Maine Orono.