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.
Baumrind and her research partner, Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University, have found that children who are occasionally spanked by responsible, loving parents score higher on measures of well-being than children whose parents do not spank. Mind you, that does not mean spanking is essential to raising a well-adjusted child. It means that parents who spank on occasion – as did the typical 1950s parent – are likely to possess greater confidence in their authority than parents who do not spank or who spank liberally and indiscriminately. The fact is, children need unequivocal authority as much as they do unconditional love.
The overwhelming preponderance of evidence is on my side: For reasons that have to do with a generally held parental attitude as opposed to any given disciplinary method, parenting outcomes in the 1950s were better by far than they are today. And make no mistake about it, the attitude in question works no less well today. If it did not, this column would not be 42 years in the writing.
I also believe classic rock from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s is vastly superior to anything being done today. Anyone want to take me on about that?