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Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America

3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814798492
ISBN-10: 0814798497
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Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“(Stearns) has a keen appreciation of what really mattered to 20th-century Americans, in their families and beyond. Indeed, it is his easy command of all that was going on outside the home- and his profound grasp of the connectedness of those larger developments and their consequences for childreaing - that sets his study apart from other histories of the modern American family.”
-Journal of Social History

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 251 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814798497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814798492
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,362,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Akst on September 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a brief and wonderful account of how American parents came to be so anxious that fretfulness often seems the predominant state in which we live. (The section called "I'm Bored" is worth the price alone.) It's also reassuring; contrary to the scare-mongering of experts and the media, the kids nowadays are all right. Everyone who has children ought to read this sensible and illuminating work; it's worth 100 times its weight in parenting advice books.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By azw on May 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
"Anxious Parents" exposes many of our parenting worries as social constructions. Stearns shows how the concerns of experts and parents have shifted over time, in part in our attempt to deal with the fundamentals changes in our family lives, such as the rise of single parenting, dual working parent families, mandatory education, consumerism and commercial entertainment. Particularly helpful is his tracing how we came to view children as vulnerable and how we changed in our attitudes about schooling, work, and fun. I recommend "Anxious Parents" to anyone who is open to exploring our cultural assumptions and fears.
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16 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Swartz on May 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
An Amazon search finds over 100 books written by Mr. Stearns. When I first noted this, I wondered how it was possible for one man to be so productive. After reading this book, the answer is clear. Stearns book is less an academic work then it is one long ramble ramble. It makes no coherent argument, it simply flits from subject to subject. It makes factual claims, but does not back them up with footnotes -- instead, Stearns simply lists all the books he read before writing this one in the back, assuming you'll be able to find the source for whatever claims he's made in one of those. (Indeed, judging from the writing, the book hardly seems to have been edited at all.) And it does not remain objective, instead Stearns whines about the spoiled kids of today and the "dad as pal" mentality that allows parents to indulge them. This is the kind of stuff that belongs on the Rush Limbaugh show, not in a supposedly-academic text.

And while such half-finished work will undoubtedly waste the time of the reader, it has apparently done wonders for Mr. Stearn's career -- he's now Provost of his college, George Mason University.
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