The Parents Who Don't Want to Be Adults
Every generation of parents develops the anxieties it deserves. In the 1930s, the Maltine beverage company ran an advertisement in Parents magazine that featured four uniformed police officers peering intently into a crib where an infant slept. “These four watchmen guard your child’s health day and night!” the ad declared, explaining that each officer represented one of the four important vitamins that fortified the cod liver oil-laced supplement. The uncertainty of life (at a time when infant mortality was high) was a pervasive theme in such ads, and mothers were exhorted to remain vigilant against that chronic enemy, disease.
Several decades later it was children’s mental health that appeared to be in jeopardy. In 1969, the psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden published The Psychology of Self-Esteem, which argued that the most important factor in a person’s future success was the development and maintenance of a healthy sense of self-worth. For decades afterward, children’s television shows reminded their young viewers that they were the most important people in the world. Teachers heaped praise upon even the most lackluster students, and little league coaches dispensed trophies to anyone who showed up to play. Criticism and competition became suspect—invasive weeds in the fragile garden of a child’s developing sense of self.
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