A Wisconsin pediatrician wants his newspaper to eject my column, giving as one of his complaints that I hew “to the idea that the world of the 1950s was the be-all and end-all of parenting/childrearing, and that if we were to return to that era with the good-old practices of our grandparents, our children would reap the benefits.” The good doctor then claims that my traditionalist point of view is not supported by evidence. As “evidence” that his assessment of me is correct, he refers to a Huffington Post review of one of my books in which the reviewer claims that I do not believe child and teen suicide, gender-identity issues, or drug abuse existed in the 1950s, all of which is news to me.
It is, I realize, difficult for people born after 1965, roughly, to wrap their heads around the idea that there were, in fact, things about America’s past that were better than they are today. The political climate, for one thing. Childrearing, for another. Is there a body of statistical and research-based evidence that would support the retro notion that what is now called “parenting” was far more functional – for child, parent, school and culture – pre-1960s than it has been since?
There most certainly is. In fact, there is not one statistic that would support the notion that today’s parenting is guided by more enlightened ideas.
For one, the child and teen suicide rate per capita is estimated to be at least 10 times greater today than it was in the 1950s. That happens to be a reliable marker of child mental health, and I doubt that any reasonable person would argue that how a child is parented significantly affects his or her mental health. One of the questions I routinely ask people in my generation is “Do you recall a high school classmate committing suicide?” I have yet to encounter someone who possesses said memory. That some children did commit suicide in the 1950s is undeniable, but relatively speaking, it was rare.
The research of Diana Baumrind, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of California – Berkeley, finds that parents who adhere, today, to a traditional parenting ethic, emphasizing unconditional love and firm discipline, raise the most well-adjusted children.