From Publishers Weekly
While other authors have stressed the 20th century's emphasis on parental anxiety by focusing on the advice industry (e.g., Ann Hulbert's recent Raising America, Forecasts, Mar. 10), Stearns, a George Mason University history professor, takes a broader approach. If the 20th century invented the scientific approach to child care, it was partly because parents were seeking expert opinions. Modern life had created real changes in the lives of children: urbanization and smaller, nuclear families. While earlier generations of parents had viewed children as resilient, in the 20th century they were considered vulnerable, which shaped parents' approaches to children's discipline, schooling, chores and uses of leisure time. The impact of parental anxiety on children's daily lives may not have been drastic, but it did steer children in certain parent-sponsored directions, says Stearns. Children became more school-oriented, their free time more regulated. As parents worried that their kids were bored, kids began describing themselves that way. Parental hovering increased adolescent need to differentiate from parents; constant emotional temperature-taking may have led to an increase in childhood depression. Stearns urges "more parental backbone" to reject guilt tripping by the experts and more "decency" from the advice givers. Less nostalgia and more study of how things really were and are (i.e., by reading excellent texts like this one) may give parents and educators a clearer picture of how well they're doing. Stearns has put a lot of thought into this dense but elegantly argued and thoroughly researched volume, and it should become a classic in the study of American childhood.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“A strong, effective, and readable portrayal of how twentieth-century American parents have invested and over-invested in their children. In a fairly short compass, Stearns has demonstrated many of the things that historians have tended to belabor-the role of expertise, why despite their declining numbers, children have become so important socially, the new realm of consumption, how the anxiety about children has become a central matter in twentieth-century culture and even an identifier of American life. Stearns knows what is going on and that children are not a means to express other anxieties, but the very source of many of the anxieties we express.”
-Paula S. Fass,University of California, Berkeley
“Stearns points to a number of contemporary phenomena, each of which he considers an expression of parental anxiety. Steans appears to be particularly sensitive to the upward mobility of kids’ grades.”
-The New York Review of Books
“The book is more than a synthesis of existing scholarship. It is a compendium of ideas - some personal, mostly scholarly - about the experience of parenting in the United States since the beginning of the twentieth century. The book is imaginative and thought provoking.”
-History of Education Quarterly
“In what is his trademark style, Stearns creates an artful synthesis that is both revelatory and captivating. An at times unsettling analysis of parental angst, the book is replete with worthy insights for historians and contemporary parents alike.”
-The Journal of American History
“Anxiety is the hallmark of contemporary parenting. Today’s parents are tormented by fears of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, child abductions, and juvenile drug and alcohol use. In perhaps his most timely and exciting book, Peter N. Stearns explains with wit and humane insight how modern mothers and fathers came to agonize incessantly about children's personality development, school performance, and psychological well-being.”
-Steven Mintz,University of Houston