Family

Child-rearing in U.S. was derailed by paradigm shift

I am sometimes asked if I think the “parenting pendulum” is swinging back, however slowly, toward where it was 60-plus years ago or at least toward a tolerable middle point.

Before I answer, the reader should understand that prior to the psychological parenting revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s, there was no periodic swing in child-rearing in America or any other culture. The evidence points to a parenting ethos that remained essentially unchanged for thousands of years (while everything else was changing). This ethos consisted not of methodologies but of timeless understandings concerning children and parental responsibilities, understandings that crossed cultural boundaries. It is, in fact, still being adhered to in cultures that have not turned to mental health professionals as the primary source of child-rearing guidance but still rely on community elders for parenting support and counsel.

In these cultures, children are everything American children were before “experts” determined that they had been anointed by some New Age divinity to fix something that wasn’t broken: responsible, mannerly, respectful of adults, hard-working and trustworthy. A woman who recently spent two years working in rural African schools told me that it was not unusual to find over 100 children of all ages being taught in one large space by one teacher who was dealing with virtually zero behavior problems.

That is a hallucinogenic dream in America today, yet I have met a good number of American women who taught, solo, over 90 first graders at one time in the early 1950s. Without exception, they testify to orderly classrooms in which discipline was not an issue.

The major difference between then and now is that parents in the good old days understood their obligations to their neighbors, communities,and culture, while today’s parents do not have as good a grasp of these obligations. Today, the raising of the typical child is not about strengthening culture; it is all about the child and promoting his accomplishments. You know, helping him get accepted by the “right” university and such. (By the way, the “right” university for me was Western Illinois University — not generally included in a “best of” list.)

So, having put the original question into a proper historical context, my answer is no. I had hope for such a restoration until recently. Then it became clear that most of today’s parents will do such things as give their 10-year-olds smartphones even if they’re aware of research saying that such devices induce changes in brain development that mimic addiction. The inmates are obviously running the asylum.

Today’s parents are afraid of their children. They are afraid to upset them, deprive them of what their friends have, afraid of losing their carefully cultivated friendships with them. As is typical of folks in my generation, I am thankful that my parents did not care whether I liked them. It never occurred to me to yell “I hate you!” because it would not have caused them to even pause in what they were doing.

American child-rearing underwent a paradigm shift 50 years ago and has been off the rails ever since. More and more people are recognizing this and resolving to correct it in their own homes. But will the big picture ever be rebalanced? I doubt it, but that’s not the point. The point is to do the right thing without needing someone else to join in, or even cheer you on.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.

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