“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Caring for children ever characterizes healthy cultures. Even “primitive” cultures invested much in rearing the coming generation–as evident in an Iroquois tradition that encouraged folks to consider the next seven generations when charting tribal policies. If you want to make a “good society” you need to rear “good kids.” Robert Coles, long-time Harvard professor and highly-regarded authority on children, says: “Good children are boys and girls who in the first place have learned to take seriously the very notion, the desirability, of goodness–a living up to the Golden Rule, a respect for others, a commitment of mind, heart, soul to one’s family, neighborhood, nation–and have also learned that the issue of goodness is not an abstract one, but rather a concrete, expressive one: how to turn the rhetoric of goodness into action, moments that affirm the presence of goodness in a particular life lived” (The Moral Intelligence of Children).
Given such ancient wisdom, given the need most everyone acknowledges that we need to rear “good” children, their conditions–as documented in several recent studies–should concern us all. Robert M. Shaw, M.D., a child and family psychiatrist who once taught at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, now directs the Family Institute of Berkeley, California, and maintains his psychiatric practice. He has recently published, with Stephanie Wood, The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children (New York: ReganBooks, c. 2003). Though written without any clear religious commitment, the book echoes profoundly religious themes; coming from a writer comfortably settled in the liberal environs of Berkeley, California, it champions a thoroughly conservative message.
The book’s lengthy subtitle encapsulates its message, and Shaw writes with a deep sense of outrage at the ways parents, for the past 30 years, have failed their kids. He claims the killings at Columbine High School at Littleton, Colorado, “did not surprise” him. Hardly “an aberration,” killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold simply demonstrated what one would expect to result from “the childrearing attitudes and practices that have spread like a virus from home to home in this country” (p. x). Spending time with youngsters–or merely walking through a shopping mall–should alert us to their sullen, angry, whining, self-absorbed attitudes, ample “signs that our society has become toxic to children” (p. xi).
The big problem, as James Dobson indicated long ago, is parents’ failure to discipline their children. In truth, “No!” is a good word! Kids need boundaries, limits, restrictions. They actually welcome “limits on when they go to bed, when they do their homework, when they watch TV, what they eat, who they play with. And they thrive in tightly managed environments” (p. 129). Permissive parenting is poor parenting! “When parents let a child run wild, they are in fact abandoning him” (p. 147). Without careful guidance, Shaw says, children fail to develop into caring, sensitive adults. But because they spend so much time away from their kids, today’s parents internalize a great deal of guilt and are overly-anxious to please rather than direct their offspring. They even try to be friends with their youngsters, consulting rather than correcting them. Whenever a mom or dad tells a child “Let’s go” and appends an “OK?” there’s a problem! Adults, not children, must make such decisions.
Parents have also allowed themselves to be brainwashed by “the parenting gurus who preach child-centric theories, asserting: ‘Never let your baby cry,’ ‘He’ll use the potty when he’s ready,’ ‘Discipline is disrespectful,’ ‘The child’s feelings should come first'” (p. 15). And when ill-disciplined kids get out of control, there’s always Ritalin and Prozac, which doubled in usage within a single decade. All sorts of verbal evasions proliferate like crab grass! Kids are called “difficult,” “oppositional,” “high-maintenance,” etc. In fact, they’re just spoiled! Rather than dealing with the real issues, the “experts” have simplistically prescribed a singular cure: self-esteem! Whatever’s wrong, self-esteem will correct it! Bumper stickers and awards ceremonies, incessant praise and mandatory applause, all seek to make children “feel good” about themselves. A sense of “self-esteem,” it’s said, develops when kids enjoy incessant approval. Nonsense! says Shaw. The self-esteem peddled by “pop psychologists is nothing less than self-worship, narcissism,” and it sizably contributes to the many problems youngsters struggle with. Real self-esteem, on the other hand, is a by-product of authentic accomplishments. Actually scoring a touchdown–not getting praised for trying–gives one self-esteem. Just do something worthwhile, something good, and forget the smiley faces.
Doing things means viewing less TV. Watching too much, and thinking about it too little, proves toxic to youngsters. Most kids are mostly unsupervised as they weekly absorb anywhere from 20-50 hours of programming, much of it whetting appetites for consumption, sex, and violence. Consequently, they read less and learn less, have fewer friends and like their parents less. They also are much more discontented with things in general. Shaw urges parents to monitor and control their children’s TV time. The medium–like computers and music–has much to offer. But we need to choose what’s right and protect our kids from what’s wrong.
What children most need isn’t more TV or awards or drugs but, rather, more parental care. As John Locke observed, centuries ago, “Parents wonder why the streams are bitter, when they themselves have poisoned the fountain.” Especially in the early years, a baby needs a mother’s arms and words. “She alone has that unique instinctual drive that prepares her to engage in a developmental dance with her newborn” (p. 26). Without what Shaw calls “motherese” during a baby’s first two years, his cognitive and emotional development suffers. “This incredible relationship between mother and child is absolutely unique, the single most sacred thing in our culture” (p. 34). And yet, amazingly enough, this “sacred thing” has been ruthlessly assailed and ridiculed, rejected by powerful elites in this country.
Those who have urged women to pursue full-time careers–feminists of all shades who have urged women to ignore their own inner promptings–have created a world profoundly hostile to children’s wellbeing. Truth to tell, institutionalized childcare is mainly defended by those who place parents’ concerns above children’s. Considerable dishonesty pervades the social sciences, where studies are hyped or ignored in accord with their support of working mothers and day schools. Two parents, both pursuing careers full-time, Shaw insists, can hardly provide “the optimum environment for raising children” (p. 80). He writes with deep conviction, for his life has been spent dealing with “anguished parents and their children, and I can tell you this much is true: at least one of the parents has to make raising the children the top priority” (82). Anything less puts kids in harm’s way. There’s much harm, for example, in childcare. The more time a child spends in childcare facilities the less closely he will bond with his mother–and the more behavioral problems he will have thereafter.
Shaw’s contentions are buttressed by Brian C. Robertson’s Day Care Deception: What The Child Care Establishment Isn’t Telling Us (San Francisco: Encounter Books, c. 2003). This is a modest updating of his earlier publication, Forced Labor: What’s Wrong with Balancing Work and Family (Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, c. 2002). Robertson works as a research fellow at the Family Research Council’s Center for Marriage and Family, and he edits the Family Policy Review. He argues that young children need constant, loving, motherly attention; a healthy attachment, early established, enables babies to develop well. No paid substitutes can actually “mother” a baby. “As G.K. Chesterton remarked over eighty years ago, ‘If people cannot mind their own business, it cannot possibly be more economical to pay them to mind each other’s business, and still less to mind each other’s babies'” (p. 154). That truth, however, has been systematically denied and rejected by the elites who shape public opinion and establish public policy. Consequently, more and more children suffer a variety of behavioral problems that ultimately affect American culture.
Basic to Robertson’s case is “attachment theory,” best represented by the noted psychologist John Bowlby and popularized by Benjamin Spock, who urged moms to stay home with their children as much as possible until they were at least four years old. To separate a child from his mother was widely understood to endanger the child’s well-being. During the past 30 years, however, vigorous critics have denied attachment’s import. Though no evidence supported their case, the critics basically silenced (through intimidation) the attachment theorists. Consequently, Dr. Spock’s 1992 edition of Baby and Child Care says nothing about the need for any infant-mother attachment and even encourages parents to elevate self-fulfillment over concern for children. Explaining his radical about-face on this issue, Spock said that too many women “pounced” on him and blamed him for making them feel “guilty.” Convinced they would work whether he approved or not–and unable to withstand feminist wrath–he says: “I just tossed it. It’s a cowardly thing that I did; I just tossed it in subsequent editions” (p. 73).
Spock represents the almost universal capitulation of elite academic and media “authorities” on childcare. They deny the data Roberson presents which is, indeed, alarming. It’s evident that professors and journalists care much more for their agenda than the truth. In Bernard Goldberg’s lengthy experience as a journalist, he witnessed the success of feminists, who “are the pressure group that the media elites (and their wives and friends) are most aligned with.” Consequently, “America’s newsrooms are filled with women who drop their kids off someplace before they go to work or leave them at home with the nanny. These journalists are not just defending working mothers–they’re defending themselves” (Bias, 163, 178). This explains why “research” justifying day care for kids gets prominent exposure, whereas equally valid “research” condemning it is rarely reported.
The same holds for professors in elite universities. Despite a great deal of preening about “academic freedom” and fearlessly pursuing the truth, no tolerance is granted “research” suggesting children suffer when deprived of their parents’ presence. Like Social Security for politicians, daycare for children is the “third rail” for academics–touch it and you die! Professors hoping to be published, to get tenure, to enjoy advancement and prestige in their profession, simply cannot challenge feminist orthodoxies. Indeed, Dr. Louise Silverstein, in the American Psychologist, urged her colleagues to “‘refuse to undertake any more research that looks for the negative consequences of other-than-mother care'” (p. 103). One of the few who dared to do so is a highly regarded scholar, Jay Belsky, who initially defended (in the ’70s and ’80s) the notion that children fared well in daycare facilities. In time, however, mounting evidence prodded him to reverse himself. Suddenly, he found himself attacked as an enemy of working women–indeed of women in general! Publishing his research proved difficult. He was “shunned at scientific meetings” (p. 43). He’d become an outcast, a nobody! Consequently, he’s accepted an appointment in England!
What the professors and journalists refuse to report, however, should be reported. For children increasingly suffer as a result of parental deprivation. On a purely physical level it’s clear that children in day care institutions are far more likely to be sick than their counterparts at home. One epidemiologist actually called day care centers “the open sewers of the twentieth century” (p. 87). Chronic inner ear infections, diarrhea, dysentery, jaundice, hepatitis A all thrive when small children are mixed together, and “high quality” centers are as disease-ridden as their less esteemed rivals. Harder document, of course, is the soul-suffering endured by young children. Kids now spend more time alone, more time with TV, less time eating meals at home, less time talking with adults. They’re more likely to demonstrate anti-social behavior and less likely to internalize solid ethical principles.
These problems are fully understood by America’s parents, though denied by the nation’s elites! More than three-fourths of ordinary moms and dads would prefer for moms to stay home with young children. When day care is needed, they much prefer it be provided by a relative or friend. But three-fourths of the alleged “experts” (generally highly-educated, and especially academic women), however, prefer day care centers. And, though these scholars and journalists are quite wealthy, they want the government to subsidize their “child care.” Some, like Hillary Clinton, propose aggressive interventions by the state. So, Mrs. Clinton urged: “Every home and family should be taught through parenting education and family visitation by social service intermediaries, how to raise children. This would begin in the prenatal stages and continue through childhood'” (pp. 156-157).
Senators Hillary Clinton and Edward Kennedy and Christopher Dodd set the tax policies and national agenda to comply with the radical feminist agenda. Though few parents want what Clinton et al. seek to dictate, they are subjects of the welfare state and struggle to cope with its policies. It’s a daunting struggle, but Robertson provides data and perspectives with which to resist it.
Though rather unwieldy (640 pp.) and repetitious at times, William D. Gairdner’s The War Against the
Family: A Parent Speaks Out on the Political, Economic, and Social Policies That Threaten Us All (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co., c. 1992) gives us a Canadian parent’s perspective on a variety of issues. A graduate of StanfordUniversity and an Olympic athlete, Gairdner weaves together history, philosophy, theology, education, psychology, sociology and jurisprudence, touching on everything from abortion to taxation. Much of the book’s value derives from his quotations, sources, and interesting synthesis of his studies regarding the state of the modern family.
Let me focus on only one of his major themes: the doleful impact of the Welfare State, the deleterious effect of all utopian schemes that propose to improve upon the natural order of things. As he writes in his Preface, this book “shows how the political, economic and social/moral troubles that play themselves out in the nation at large inevitably trickle down to alter our most private lives and dreams; how any democracy based on freedom and privacy will strangle itself if it drifts toward, or is manoeuvred into, a belief in collectivism of any kind” (p. ix). To the extent socialism triumphs, Gairdner argues, the family suffers.
This is graphically evident in Sweden, often touted as a grand example of “democratic socialist” success. Following the ideological schemes of the economist Gunnar Myrdal and his wife Alva, a “radical feminist sociologist” (p. 138), Sweden engineered a cradle-to-grave welfare state. (The Myrdals’ work, incidentally, prompted the U.S. Supreme court’s 1952 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision mandating public school desegregation.) In fact, early plaudits for the Swedes’ egalitarian economic system have paled of late as its debts are now mounting. In the words of Goran Bruhner, “Sweden used to be a welfare paradise on earth. Not it is the sick man of Europe” (p. 14). Swedes pay the world’s highest taxes, and two-thirds of the nation’s GNP is devoted to government spending. One-third of the people produces goods while the other two-thirds redistributes the money derived from taxing the producers. Ten percent of the workforce fails to work on any given day–rising to 20 percent on Monday and Friday! Swedes are “sick” 23 days a year.
Social, as well as economic decay, also marks Sweden. The government has pursued a markedly secular agenda, evident in a 1968 publication, titled “The Family is Not Sacred.” The author of the article declared: “I should like to abolish the family as a means of earning a livelihood, let adults be economically independent of each other and give society a large share of responsibility for its children . . . In such a society we could very well do without marriage as a legal entity” (p. 139). To a great extent that has taken place in Sweden. Fewer people marry in Sweden than in any Western nation. Two thirds of the people in Stockholm live alone! Swedes who do marry usually cohabit beforehand–getting motivated to marry when a child results from their intimacy. In the midst of it all, the Swedes are having fewer and fewer children. And those that are born are quickly lodged in daycare facilities. Following the Myrdals’ socialist agenda, Sweden pursued policies pushing women into the workforce. Today 60 percent of the women work–45 percent of them for the government.
The Swedish Welfare State, Gairdner insists, has delivered a lethal blow to the family. But, to the enlightened elitists in Canada –the “Court Party”– Sweden serves as a model to follow! Beginning with Pierre Troudeau’s ascent to power in 1968, Canada ‘s leaders have systematically orchestrated a radical swerve to the left, quickly imposing state controls in virtually every area of life. Should Canadians–and Americans–wonder about what happens to the family when socialism triumphs, simply look to Sweden . Doing so, Gairdner says, should prompt us to reverse directions!
One of the great reversals needed involves education, to which Gairdner devotes several chapters. State-controlled education–one of the goals listed in The Communist Manifesto–illustrates the damage children suffer when subjected to a centrally-planned, bureaucratic system. Amazingly, Americans in New England and the old Northwest demonstrated a higher rate of literacy in 1840 than they do today! If you think clearly about it, “there is little difference between a collectivized, command economy and collectivized, command education. Neither can work well, and the unit cost of the product is very great–about double the cost of the same education rendered privately” (p. 198). Failing schools demand more money and more teachers in smaller classes, ignoring solid evidence showing that neither makes much of a dent in students’ performance. Public school problems cannot be solved by the public schools, for they are in fact the problem!
The public school movement, strongly championed by “reformers” like the Fabians in England, dislodged churches and private schools as mentors of the young. In 1905, the Intercollegiate Socialist Society was formed, with John Dewey as a founding member. He and his associates envisioned “education for a new social order,” and his highly influential Democracy and Education said nary a word about home and family while stressing grand themes like “social unity” and “State consciousness.” An admirer of the communist endeavors in Russia and the ’20s and ’30s, Dewey wanted to abolish private property and install a state-controlled economic system. To secure those ends, he taught successive generations of educators to be “change agents” who would transform the public schools into centers for collectivist ideology.
“History will surely show,” says Gairdner, “that one of the tragic links in the long chain of Western decline was the surrender by families, to the nation State, of control over their children’s education. As Yale historian John Demos has aptly argued, the school is one of the institutions responsible for the long-term ‘erosion of function’ of the family. And Stanford’s Kingsley Davis writes that ‘one of the main functions [of the school system] appears to be to alienate offspring from their parents” (p. 208). But we need not abandon our young to the state! To reverse the harm being done to our kids, Gairdner urges us to support private schools, vouchers, anything possible to take back some of the power from the omnivorous state. And, perhaps, there is headway being made in the U.S. today! Ultimately, truth prevails, and it’s difficult to evade the truth of G. K. Chesterton, a century ago: “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it” (p. 584).