Without a sense of the shame or guilt of his or her action, the child will only be hardened in rebellion by physical punishment. Shame (and praise) help the child to internalize the parent’s judgment. It impresses upon the child that the parent is not only more powerful but also right. Like the Puritans, Locke (in 1690), wanted the child to adopt the parent’s moral position, rather than simply bow to superior strength or social pressure.
Ambivalence reaches the level of schizophrenia in our treatment of violence among the young. Parents do not encourage violence, but neither do they take up arms against the industries which encourage it. Parents hide their eyes from the books and comics, slasher films, videos and lyrics which form the texture of an adolescent culture. While all successful societies have inhibited instinct, ours encourages it. Or at least we profess ourselves powerless to interfere with it.
Parents are used to being made to feel guilty about…their contribution to the population problem, the school tax burden, and declining test scores. They expect to be blamed by teachers and psychologists, if not by police. And they will be blamed by the children themselves. It is hardy a wonder, then, that they withdraw into what used to be called “permissiveness” but is really neglect.
Could it be that those who were reared in the postwar years really were spoiled, as we used to hear? Did a child-centered generation, raised in depression and war, produce a self-centered generation that resents children and parenthood?
If our entertainment culture seems debased and unsatisfying, the hope is that our children will create something of greater worth.But it is as if we expect them to create out of nothing, like God, for the encouragement of creativity is in the popular mind, opposed to instruction. There is little sense that creativity must grow out of tradition, even when it is critical of that tradition, and children are scarcely being given the materials on which their creativity could work
[17th-century] Puritans were the first modern parents. Like many of us, they looked on their treatment of children as a test of their own self-control. Their goal was not to simply to ensure the child’s duty to the family, but to help him or her make personal, individual commitments. They were the first authors to state that children must obey God rather than parents, in case of a clear conflict.
In the years of the Roman Republic, before the Christian era, Roman education was meant to produce those character traits that would make the ideal family man. Children were taught primarily to be good to their families. To revere gods, one’s parents, and the laws of the state were the primary lessons for Roman boys. Cicero described the goal of their child rearing as “self- control, combined with dutiful affection to parents, and kindliness to kindred.
The person who designed a robot that could act and think as well as your four-year-old would deserve a Nobel Prize. But there is no public recognition for bringing up several truly human beings.
We like the idea of childhood but are not always crazy about the kids we know. We like it, that is, when we are imagining our ownchildhoods. So part of our apparent appreciation of youth is simply envy.
Quintilian [educational writer in Rome around A.D. 100] thought that the earliest years of the child’s life were crucial. Education should start earlier than age seven, within the family. It should not be so hard as to give the child an aversion to learning. Rather, these early lessons would take the form of play–that embryonic notion of kindergarten.
Children became an obsessive theme in Victorian culture at the same time that they were being exploited as never before. As the horrors of life multiplied for some children, the image of childhood was increasingly exalted. Children became the last symbols of purity in a world which was seen as increasingly ugly.