Parenthood: Only the strong survive

How parenting advice has evolved over the decades

The psychological, educational and scientific interest in children and how to raise them “correctly” is a
relatively new phenomenon — just over 100 years old. In fact, it was only in the late 1800s that pediatrics, infant care and child psychology actually became subjects of scientific interest. The American Pediatric Society was established in 1887 in order to provide the general public with educative information on various infant issues.

The belief that scientific principles could be applied to child rearing produced new kinds of child-rearing manuals, the most influential of which was Dr. Luther Emmett Holt's “The Care and Feeding of Children,” first published in 1894.

Holt emphasized rigid scheduling of feeding, bathing, sleeping, and bowel movements and advised mothers to guard vigilantly against germs and undue stimulation of infants: “Babies under six months old should never be played with; and the less of it at any time the better for the infant.”

Quite the opposite of what is deemed appropriate today!

READ MORE: Is it just us or are kids strange?

By 1928, behaviorist John Watson wrote the famous “Psychological Care of Infant and Child.” Watson’s keys to raising productive members of society were based on the following: keep children under strict behavioral control by requiring instant obedience and demanding chores; withhold affection so as to not spoil children; women should reject and abandon their motherly instinct to bond and nurture their children on an emotional level.

"Treat them as though they were young adults,” he writes. “Dress them; bathe them with care and circumspection. Let your behavior always be objective and kindly firm. Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap ... Shake hands with them in the morning.”

In 1946, Benjamin Spock, a representative of the Freudian psychoanalyst view, published “Baby and Child Care.” Many war-weary parents, scornful of the child-rearing practices of their parents and grandparents, embraced the advice of Dr. Spock, who rejected the idea of rigid feeding, bathing, and sleeping schedules, and told parents to pick up their babies and enjoy them.

Since the early 1970s, parental anxieties have greatly increased both in scope and intensity. Many parents and laws sought to protect children from all imaginable harm by baby-proofing their homes, using car seats, requiring bicycle helmets, etc.

Meanwhile, as more mothers joined the labor force, parents arranged more structured, supervised activities for their children. Unstructured play and outdoor activities for children aged 3 to 11 declined dramatically during this period.

READ MORE: Is your child an underachiever?

There can be no doubt that contemporary parenting is more stressful than it was in the early post-war era. Today's parents are beset by severe time pressures and work-related stress, and fewer have supportive family or neighbors to help out or monitor their children. Their children are growing up, in a sex-saturated environment, where the allure of drugs, alcohol and materialism is promoted through their myriad electronic sources.

Many of the “free” spaces where earlier generations were able to play without adult supervision have disappeared. The result has been a hovering, emotionally intense style of parenting and a more highly organized form of child rearing, which may make it more difficult for children to forge an independent existence and assert their growing maturity and competence.

I recommend the following parenting book The Irreducible Needs Of Children: What Every Child Must Have To Grow, Learn, And Flourish. Follow what these two have to say and your children may reach their full potential and enjoy their childhoods.

As for the ease of parenting, well that’s open for discussion.

Paul Schwartz, PhD., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York.

Other articles by Paul Schwartz