children in america were raised differently-- 6/28/16

Today's selection -- from The End of American Childhood by Paula S. Fass. From the very founding of the United States, children were raised differently. The scarcity of labor, the availability of land, the pattern of egalitarianism that came from the rejection of Britain and the new form of national government, all formed a context for children that were more independent. They were often described as "rude, unmannerly, and bold":

"In the United States, much earlier and more emphatically than elsewhere in the [the industrializing world], authoritarian controls over children gave way to a more relaxed relationship between the generations. This pattern and its consequences drew the attention of European and American observers quite early in the nation's history, and Europeans often de­scribed American children as rude, unmannerly, and bold. Ameri­cans were eager also to see themselves as different -- fresher, newer, younger. From the time of the Revolution, some Americans believed that childrearing had to adapt to the changed possibilities of their New World environment. Americans were more open to endowing their children with greater independence and flexibility in choice be­cause they believed that the future held better possibilities and opportunities for their children.

Just Moved by Henry Mosler

"This view, together with the availability of land (on a breathtaking scale) and an absence of laws that specifically determined inheri­tance (as was common in Europe), did, I believe, recast the relation­ship between American parents and their children from the start of the nation's life, as it lowered the degree of publicly approved control that parents exercised over their children's future. This did not mean that American parents were indulgent toward their children or that children had a longer or more leisured or more playful childhood. The contrary was often the case. American children went to work early be­cause land and labor ratios made their work desirable and necessary. That work was not, however, just a form of subordination as it tended to be elsewhere in the Western world. Instead, it often provided the young with a sense of the importance of their contribution and of their ability to create their own place in the world. It made inno­vation seem possible and creativity valuable. ...

"As we shall see, it was this formula -- one that emphasized children's independence and limited parental control -- that dominated the American vision of childrear­ing even as parents struggled against its boundaries, and as new Amer­icans with very different pasts brought alternative visions. It is also a pattern that has deeply influenced American childrearing advice. Parents today still struggle with this legacy, but it remains a funda­mental part of our conversation."


Paula S. Fass


The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child


Princeton University Press


Copyright 2006 Paula S. Fass


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