“I think we should bring up our children with much less pressure to compete and get ahead: no comparing one child with another, at home or in school; no grades. Let athletics be primarily for fun, and let them be organized by children and youths themselves.” – Dr. Benjamin Spock
When people talk about Dr. Spock these days, they mostly think of the Star Trek character played by Leonard Nimoy. But those of us who are old enough remember Dr. Benjamin Spock. In 1946 his book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, was published. By the end of the millennium his book had sold over 50 million copies and been translated into 42 languages. Dr. Spock advocated new ideas about parenting; ideas which at that time were considered radical and definitely out of the mainstream. Prior to Dr. Spock, the experts recommended what can best be described as “tough love” in order to prepare children for adult life in a harsh demanding world. Dr. Spock encouraged parents to show their children more affection and consideration. Allow children to develop as they would and could, not necessarily as they should.
Dr. Benjamin’s Spock’s ideas revolutionized parenting and he is considered one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Spock was not the only “expert” advocating new ways of parenting, but he was the most widely read. His recommendations seeped into our culture. And Americans were primed for the change. The Greatest Generation, my parents, had lived through the Depression, the Dust Bowl and WW2. Now they stood victorious. The United States was champion of the world. They would give their children a better life, starting with a happier childhood.
Baby Boomers may talk about the jobs they worked as teenagers, the responsibilities they had and the demands put on them by parents, teachers and coaches. The reality is that Baby Boomers had it easy compared to their parents and grandparents and those further down the line. They were the first generation to be put on a pedestal just for being young. And when a nation allows its course to be set by the preferences and feelings of its children, it is destined to have more chaos and less order.
A lot of things needed to change in post-WW2 America. Unregulated industrialization was on a fast track to destroying our environment. Race and gender discrimination was real and rampant. In the midst of The Cold War we were encouraged to believe that those who were not fully supportive of U.S. policies and actions were somehow “un-American”, perhaps even “Commies”. And then there was Vietnam. Change did come and Baby Boomers were right out front waving their fists at institutions and authorities. Not all Baby Boomers. Perhaps not even most Baby Boomers. Nevertheless, most did embrace the appearance, the politics, the music and the bumper stickers of change.
But a funny thing happened on the way to righting all that was wrong with America. We began to give up a lot of things that were right about America. The Cultural Revolution began and most of us didn’t even realize it, at least not at that time. Looking back now, we can see it. We tell ourselves that we weren’t actively or intentionally involved. The truth is that a generation of over-indulged, spoiled, entitled Americans danced, drank, smoked, snorted, screwed and divorced their way through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s before finally settling down to make lots of money and become conservative.
And their children are the worse for it. Equally spoiled and over-indulged but with less love; going through life without the memory or the stories of challenging times and honorable ways of living. The grandchildren fare no better, adrift in single parent or multi-parent households, poorly educated and connected by social media to others and a world coming apart.
Should one wonder at the trends and ideas pervading our culture these days? Not when one confesses that it began on their watch when they exchanged duty and responsibility for comfort and personal freedom.
“The 1960’s were about releasing ourselves from conventional society and freeing ourselves.”- Yoko Ono