Discovering The Child Within | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 17.12.2003
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Discovering The Child Within

They drive go-carts, listen to children’s radio plays or visit amusement parks: Many adults seem to long for their childhood as soon as they come of age. Researchers aren’t surprised by the phenomenon.


Who will ride on it first?

Fathers have been known to give their sons model trains, only to guide the steam engines through miniature Bavarian valleys themselves. But nowadays, they also scoot down hills on bobby cars, complete with lawn-mower tires and newly tuned base plates. They keep their old rocking horses. They listen to children’s detective radio plays on their tape players from childhood. Indeed, adults account for 75 percent of all childrens' audio sales.

Escape into the familiar

These people aren't crazy, they're just looking for a bit of escape. They’re looking for a world in which they don’t have to think about doing their taxes, getting stuck in traffic and cleaning the house.

“It’s a regression that happens during difficult times,” Felizitas Romeiss-Stracke, a Munich researcher who studies leisure time behavior, told DW-WORLD. In other words: People relax when they’re playing. “We’re living in an era of change and constantly have to adapt,” Romeiss-Stracke said.

Familienurlaub im Playmobil Fun Park

The "Playmobil FunPark" in Bavaria.

That’s why people revert to all things simple and fun, whether it’s playing with Lego or racing miniature cars around speedway tracks. “People connect pleasurable memories with these things,” said Günter Krampen, a psychology professor at Trier University. People who get bogged down in their jobs sometimes simply need a way to escape.

Children’s birthday party at 39

Andreas Steinle, who runs a business called “trend office” in Hamburg, has come up with more explanations. “It’s a sign of tolerance that adults are allowed to behave like children,” Steinle said. “In the past, people had a clear idea of how adults were meant to act.”

Today, however, it’s okay to explore the inner child. That’s because industrialized societies get older as a whole, according to Steinle. When there are fewer children around, the grown-ups get to play themselves. “Child-like behavior increases in value,” the trend expert said. Because it’s rare.

The phenomenon is by no means a new one, though. Just think of the amusement fairs that have been around for centuries, Steinle said. “Even the Romans did this, as people back then had problems as well,” Krampen added. Ancient societies of course had to make do without television, which can bring some calming warmth to wuthering lives.

Daniel Küblböck mit Autobiographie

A more serious Daniel Küblböck at a book signing for his recently published autobiography.

A case in point is the infantile “super star” Daniel Küblbock (photo), who became famous as a contestant in Germany’s version of “American Idol.” He represents the unbearable funniness of being, leading Cord Bitter, a media psychologist in Berlin, to describe TV casting shows as “big children’s birthday parties” or antidepressants delivered via the small screen.

Weekend trips to children’s world

As people all over the world are experiencing problems, discovering the child within has become an international trend. Naturally it’s happening in the U.S., the birthplace of modern day amusement parks. “These are artificial children’s worlds that adults can visit, too,” Steinle said, adding that the Cartoon Network has more viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 than CNN. “The leisure industry has evolved and reacts quickly,” Steinle said.

“Growing up just isn’t attractive any more and that’s actually pretty sad,” said Frank Furundi, a British sociologist who observed students while watching the children’s TV program “Teletubbies.” Steinle on the other hand said it’s nonsense to criticize infantile shows.

And Krampen even seemed willing to throw out detailed psychological studies on the reasons for grown-ups to keep racing miniature cars: “They’re doing it because it’s fun.”

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