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Wednesday, 18 November 2009 21:03

Study finds childrearing much changed over past nine decades

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Dr. Markella Rutherford conducted an analysis based on parenting articles from the 1920s to the mid-2000s. She found that children have more freedoms within the home, but less independence outside of it.


Dr. Markella B. Rutherford, a professor within the Department of Sociology at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, performed the historic study on children and parenting style.

Her article “Children’s Autonomy and Responsibility: An Analysis of Childrearing Advice” appears in the December 2009 issue of the journal Quantitative Sociology (volume 32, number 4).

Dr. Rutherford used three hundred advice columns and articles, between 1920 and 2006, on childrearing, child discipline, parenting methods, and family relationships in the magazine Parents for the background on her study of historical changes in the relationship between parental authority and their children.

Rutherford stated, "In earlier generations, children and adolescents were given meaningful opportunities to be responsible by contributing not only to their households but also to their larger communities.” [Guardian.cu.uk: “Lack of household chores making children less responsible, claims survey”]

In the 1930s, Rutherford found that children were given regular chores to do around the house. For instance, parents told children when to sleep and what to eat.

By the 1940s, parents were demanding less of their children and allowing them more freedoms and independence.

Still, from the 1930s to the 1970s children were often regularly and routinely given chores to do around the house, such as preparing meals, cleaning, and taking care of ill relatives.

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However, by the 1980s, Rutherford found references to household chores by children within homes were absent from articles within the magazine.

One of the findings of the study showed that today’s children have only one prime duty around the house: to do their homework.

They are also asked sometimes to perform a few modest jobs and have only small responsibilities around the house, such as cleaning up after themselves and feeding their pets.

The abstract to her paper states the following about Parents magazine, “This popular text reveals increased autonomy for children in their private self-expression, especially in regard to activities of daily living, personal appearance, and defiance of parents.”

“However, the magazine also portrays children’s diminished public autonomy as revealed through increasingly restricted freedom of movement and substantially delayed acceptance of meaningful responsibilities.”

Thus, children have more freedoms (and fewer household chores to do) inside the home but are more restricted outside the home (are not left alone away from home).

Dr. Rutherford concludes, “An appreciation of popular childrearing advice as a measure of individualistic cultural values thus requires an understanding of larger social changes that shift attention from public participation toward private self-expression.” [Abstract]

In the NewAmerica.net article “Popsicle Pushers and 21st Century Childrearing,” Rutherford states, "Children have fewer opportunities to conduct themselves in public spaces free from adult supervision than they did in the early and mid-twentieth century."

The article continues, “Afterschool time, for example, has shifted from children making their way home alone to being in structured activities under adult supervision or being shuttled in cars from one place to another."

"The automobile-centered nature of today's neighborhoods can make autonomy very hard. This has worrying implications, she suggests, for the ways that children learn to participate in their communities.”


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