Failed Experiments: Child-Rearing Experts– Visions and Revisions

Failed Experiments: Child-Rearing Experts– Visions and Revisions

Sun, 6 Apr 2003

A new book by Ann Hulbert, “Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children,” examines the theories and the validity of “expert” advice that had been dished out as Gospel to American parents.

More than other cultures, Americans seem to have been influenced by one after another school of “experts” who urged them to suspend their natural instincts and apply unproven theories to human behavior. Essentially parents and children became subjects of vast uncontrolled experiments that were falsely promoted as progressive “scientific” improvements on child rearing. Invariably, when parents abandoned their natural nurturing instincts and relied on the advice of “experts,” greater harm than good resulted.

For example, a New York Times article reports: “Cultural critics in the 1920’s [ ] warned against cloying motherly love, fearing it would fail to prepare children for the impersonal industrial world they were to enter. This concern paved the way for behavioralists like John B. Watson, who boasted of being able to program children as if they were microchips.”

Today, we know that: “The easiest and quickest way to induce depression and alienation in an infant or child is not to touch it, hold it, or carry it on your body.”

Yet, “experts” advised parents against doing what comes naturally: “Kissing the baby after it has been fed is very likely to cause it to vomit.” “Never let them sit on your lap.” Instead, the experts advised: “Shake hands with them in the morning.”

Generally, if followed, advice from “expert” often resulted in impeding normal development and emotional bonding between parents and children. As a result, both parents and children suffered from emotional deprivation.

The article in the NYT describes some of the questionable theoretical underpinnings to such faulty advice on child rearing, and the tendency to swing from one radical ideological model to another:

“During World War II, when the draft and the growing numbers of working women disrupted family life and fears of fascism ran high, the pendulum swung the other way: child experts now fretted about insufficient motherly attention. Coercive child-rearing produced frustrated, aggressive children, some experts argued. This was the period when the philosopher Theodore Adorno, a refugee from Nazism, wrote “The Authoritarian Personality,” in 1950, arguing that stern, unloving homes produced prejudiced and authoritarian children.”

Current brain research is similarly infused with speculative ideological agendas. They are guided by neither scientific validity nor human values. The Times notes: “ideological agendas can also be discerned in the current brain research, as a new crop of baby experts use neuroscience to argue that children’s personalities and abilities are either determined before they’re out of diapers or remarkably malleable.”

In “Perfect Parents: Baby-Care Advice Past and Present” (1995), Christina Hardyment writes: “A determination grew, to allow the children of the free world to be more free than children had ever been.”

Parents in the free world would do well to be extra cautious about following the advice of the current crop of “experts” who promote the use of psychoactive drugs to curtail children’s response to their unfettered “freedom.”

CNN reported that “some in the medical profession now also find fault with the rising tide of diagnoses for behaviors once thought of simply as troublesome or odd, and especially the rising number of children and young adults labeled “sick” and medicated.” http://www.cnn.com/2003/HEALTH/conditions/03/24/health.psychiatry.reut/index .html

Children are being used as pawns in an unconscionable drug marketing strategy in which “experts” with financial ties to drug companies advise millions of parents to improve their kids’ behavior by starting them on psychoactive drugs. Usually, the gateway drug is the psychostimulant, Ritalin, which scientists at Brookhaven Laboratories have found to be more potent than cocaine. See: Vastag B, “Pay Attention: Ritalin Acts Much Like Cocaine,” JAMA, August 22/29, 2001, Vol. 286 No. 8, http://jama.amaassn.org/issues/v286n8/ffull/jmn0822-1.html.

Not far behind are the antidepressants such as, Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil which are prescribed singly or in combined “cocktails.” When these fail, children are brought into submission with antipsychotics such as, Risperdall and Zyprexa. Parents need to be warned that none of these drugs are benign. But the “experts” neglect to forewarn parents about the known, the foreseeable, and the potentially irreversible adverse effects of these drugs. See AHRP Infomail, January 14, 2003. http://www.ahrp.org/infomail/0103/14.php

In his book, “Why Ignoring the Experts May be Best for Your Child” sociologist Frank Furedi put it this way: “Parents are no more ignorant than the experts, so we might as well ignore them and act on our instincts.”

Highly recommended: The Science of Mother Love: Is Science Catching Up to Mother’s Wisdom? By Cori Young http://www.mothering.com/9-0-0/html/9-9-0/mother-love.shtml

Perhaps the “experts” that pose the greatest threat to children’s dignity as human beings are the cutting-edge scientists who promise to use technological “advances” that will “produce babies who will grow up smarter, stronger, and prettier than anyone alive today. Tomorrow’s designer children could also have made-to-order talents and might live decades longer than we will.”

A foremost proponent of genetic engineering is James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix. Watson declared at a 1998 conference: “if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we?”

For arguments against Watson’s “Brave New World” order and his “Devil may care about the unintended consequences” attitude, See: Making Better Babies By Bruce Agnew, Sage Crossroads at: http://www.sagecrossroads.net/news_033103.cfm

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http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/05/arts/05BABY.html?pagewanted=print&position=top

THE NEW YORK TIMES
April 5, 2003
Visions and Revisions of Child-Raising Experts
By PATRICIA COHEN

Parents have never lacked for expert advice. “Kissing the baby after it has been fed is very likely to cause it to vomit.” “Never let them sit on your lap.” “Shake hands with them in the morning.” “It’s your problem, not your child’s.”

Ever since the science of child development was invented in the beginning of the 20th century, experts have offered parents a goulash of advice on how to raise the little marvel (or monster), creating as much anxiety and confusion as they are supposed to assuage. “I try to do just what you say,” one 1920’s mother complained, “but I am a nervous wreck just trying to be calm.”

Given the proliferation of books about how Americans should raise the baby, it was inevitable that scholars would eventually turn to the question of why Americans are so obsessed with raising the baby. In a string of new books, social and cultural historians are trying to figure out just what it is about American parents that makes them so anxious — and so eager to turn to the experts. Their theories differ, but what they do agree on is that there’s a lot more to child care advice than simply child care.

Views on family values, cultural trends, social developments and economic conditions have often turned out to be more important than any research. (The time-consuming child-centered approach wouldn’t have had a chance in the 1950’s if affluence hadn’t made washing machines and vacuum cleaners commonplace in middle-class homes). “It wasn’t firm data that drove child rearing expertise,” Ann Hulbert points out in her forthcoming book, “Raising America: Experts, Parents and a Century of Advice About Children” (Knopf), “but changing social concerns that seemed to dictate its swerves and emphases.”

The very development of “modern” child rearing practices was prompted by industrialization’s disorienting shifts. As far back as 1909, Margaret Mead declared that “so longstanding and so rapid have been these processes of change that expectation of change and anxiety about change have been built into our character as a people.”

She continued, “We have become correspondingly more anxious that they” — our children — “should be perfectly equipped before they go.”

With these unsettling and rapid turns, early reformers declared it was time for science to take over and produce well-adjusted children who were prepared for the brave, not to mention complex and unpredictable, new world. The Progressive Era was fascinated with science and professionalization, and child-rearing trends, not surprisingly, mirrored those obsessions.

Intellectuals, too, were preoccupied with replacing hoary traditions and religious practices with rational logic and science. Scientific education got further impetus after World War I, when army recruits were given I.Q. tests for the first time, Julia Grant writes in “Raising Baby by the Book” (Yale University Press, 1998). Half were graded at below-normal intelligence, causing an uproar that America was raising half-wits and incompetents.

The creation of the child development field also proved a socially acceptable path for the increasing numbers of women who were earning college degrees. “Educators defined motherhood as valuable work requiring extensive knowledge and training,” writes Ms. Grant, an associate professor at James Madison College at Michigan State University. Meanwhile, she continues, “the notion that the proper practice of motherhood demanded esoteric knowledge allowed women to reconcile their intellectual interests with their everyday lives in the home.”

Anxiety over women’s roles was not the only impetus for standardizing child-rearing practices. So were racial fears. Child-rearing advice became part of a larger project of Americanization, a way to assimilate immigrants and African-Americans more quickly, Ms. Grant argues.

Soon bringing up baby was seen as too important to be left to amateurs. “It is beyond the capacity of the individual parent to train her child to fit into the intricate, interwoven and interdependent social and economic system we have developed,” Ray Lyman Wilbur, the president of Stamford University, told a White House conference on children in 1930.

…cut….

for complete article: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/05/arts/05BABY.html?pagewanted=print&position=top

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