The Invention of American Childhood

On an emotionally turbulent day, David Brooks writes not about politics but the psychological climate shaping generations.

“The Heart Grows Smarter” describes a Harvard study that tracked students from 1938 on and now has come to an unexpected conclusion: “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects” of their lives.

Those with close emotional bonds not only lived longer and did better but, pace Dr. Freud, changed and re-invented themselves even after difficult early years.

None of this comes as a surprise to the editor and friend of Dr. Benjamin Spock who invented modern American childhood after World War II with a parenting guide that became the best-selling book in history after the Bible.

It changed the mindset of treating children as creatures to be trained and restrained to seeing them as human beings to be loved and nurtured.

Along the way, his followers and indeed Dr. Spock himself discovered the difficulties that come with a tectonic shift in social and cultural ideas. He became distraught over the duplicity of politicians and morphed into a leading opponent of the Vietnam War along with Martin Luther King.

A decade later, the beloved baby doctor of the 1950s was indicted for “conspiracy to counsel, aid and abet resistance to the draft,” convicted and sentenced to jail.

MORE.

Author: ROBERT STEIN

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