History, Topic of the Past

On Good Intentions & Bad Outcomes of the Anxieties of Modern Parents

On Good Intentions & Bad Outcomes of the Anxieties of Modern Parents

“The components of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger do not exist independently of you in the world. They simply do not exist in the physical world, even though we talk about them as if they do.”

–Wayne Dyer

New Reasons for Anxiety in the Modern Period of Baby Care History

The 2004 book “Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Child-Rearing in America” by author, professor and historian Peter N. Stearns looks at the baby care history of the 20th century. He points to several factors that increased parental anxiety, including mobility, urbanization and smaller nuclear families. Many parents no longer have the advice and support of extended family that they did in the past. Another factor was the shifting societal view of children as being fragile and vulnerable, rather than resilient, as they had been considered to be in earlier generations.

A review of the book talks about the five main topics of the book, which are the degree of vulnerability of children, discipline, education, work outside the home, and entertainment. Parenting manuals from from earlier periods in baby care history were apt to focus on the importance of obedience and parents’ setting a good example, as well as information about health and gender roles. Rather than being written by experts in child psychology, they were often written by members of the clergy.

Today, parenting manuals cover nearly as many topics as there are diagnoses of mental and emotional illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Many emotional states that were once considered normal within the human continuum of experience are now considered to be mental disorders. Each edition of the DSM has increased the number of disorders, and today lists more than at any other period in baby care history. In 1952, it listed only 106, increasing to 265 by 1980 to 297 in the most current issue. Due to complaints about the ever-increasing number of “disorders”, has led to a new practice of creating subtypes of disorders.

According to an article in Slate magazine, a study compared societal levels of neuroticism, associated with anxiety, from 1963 to those of 1993 and found that Americans showed higher anxiety levels in 1993. Ironically, some of the increased anxiety parents experience is related to their fear that making parenting mistakes will result in a future diagnosis of a mental or emotional disorder. Other modern causes for anxiety include the discovery that germs cause disease and that the majority of fatal accidents occur in the home.

Reasons for Educational Anxiety in Today’s Chapter in Baby Care History

One impact of increased parental anxiety was an increase in parental involvement in education, leading to the development of the term “helicopter parents“, coined in 1969. While parental involvement in children’s educations can be positive, Stearn believes that excessive hovering, especially with adolescents, may increase their need to differentiate themselves from their parents and interfere with the natural process of emotional separation.

The U.S. has the largest percentage of home-schooled children in the developed world. Many attribute their reasons for home-schooling to their desire to have greater control over their children’s influences. For many parents, teaching children to do chores at home is more important for both future life skills and character development than completing hours of academic homework.

Others are concerned about what they view as declining educational standards in public schools. For example, in 1968, less than half of high school grades were A’s and B’s. However, since the focus shifted from academic achievement to self-esteem, the number of A’s and B’s rose steadily, and by 1994, 32% of high school students received A’s. Grades have continued to rise despite the fact that by 2002, 25% of all children in one Virginia public school system were designated as having special needs. Additionally, children in U.S. schools use 90% of Ritalin prescribed world-wide.

The Role of Entertainment in Today’s Chapter in Baby Care History

For the first time in baby care history, one of parents’ worries is that their children are bored. Boredom may in fact be a symptom of childhood depression linked to the constant availability of mass media entertainment. This entertainment is sponsored by advertisers that deliberately create feelings of dissatisfaction in order to sell more products.

A review in Salon magazine sums up many of Stearn’s most salient points regarding the reasons for an increase in parental anxiety during this period in baby care history. It also points out that modern mass media, dependent upon sensationalism to capture ratings, often exaggerates the dangers of modern life. Stearn’s book provides parents with the valuable service of presenting actual statistics regarding actual incidences of things that the media sensationalizes, such as child abductions, school violence, and abusive nannies. The review also gives him credit for superior research, as well as including a list of the most widely read child rearing manuals throughout baby care history beginning in the 1920s.

It seems that this book may give some parents some much-needed perspective and perhaps some relief from the anxieties of parenting in the modern world.

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