True, conventional historians and official biographers have been writing about children over the years. Yet, the content of most of their work is practically fictional, devoid of any useful information and only contains distorted facts of childhood in the periods that they recount.
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In Evolution of Childhood, Lloyd DeMause accuses most social historians, whose core work is to expose reality of social conditions in the past, of being apologists for brutal child abuse. He observes correctly and vindicates the fact that what constitutes infanticide, abandonment, swaddling and all other forms child abuse is a matter of objective fact.
Evolution of Childhood reviews the subject from a psycho-historical perspective by studying the psychological motivations surrounding the history of childhood. It introduces psychological principles and integrates insights of psychotherapy to understand the emotional origin of adult-child social behavior in the past. By so doing, DeMause attempts to provide an answer to the principal questions of comparative childhood history, which have been ignored for so long by conventional historians.
In his historical analysis of childhood, DeMause draws attention on those moments which often affect the psyche of the next generation. He explains the three possible adult reactions to a child’s needs: projective, reversal and empathic reactions, which ultimately go a long way to determine the way parents treat their children. The psycho-historian explains how historical change in human psyche has resulted in today’s more empathic parental care.
He brings out the concept of psycho-class or psychogenic modes, which provides an insightful periodic explanation of the influence of the society’s development on parent-child relation and style of childrearing.
DeMause describes six major psychogenic child-rearing modes in the most advanced countries. The psychogenic modes range from the time of antiquity to the mid twentieth century, and explain how parents began to develop the increasing capacity to empathize with their children.
Infanticide mode occurred between antiquity to the forth century A.D. Lloyd provides objective, factual information which shows that childrearing during this period was characterized by high infanticide rates, incest, rape, body mutilations, torture and rituals in which children were offered as sacrificial lambs.
This period was closely followed by the Abandoning mode (forth to thirteenth century A.D) which was characterized by “swaddling, fosterage, apprenticeship”, and out side wet nursing (Dunlop 45). Ambivalent mode which occurred from the end of the Abandoning mode to seventeenth century saw the introduction of the very first child protection laws. Childrearing during this period, however, was still marked by shorter swaddling, enemas and child beating.
During the succeeding Intrusive mode in the eighteenth century, both parents were actively involved in childrearing. Most parents wanted the best for their children and gave them more attention. Yet, a handful of parents during this period were still keen on controlling the children’s behavior and minds. Though there were no more terror threats against the child, repression of a child’s sexuality and early toilet training was common place.
Parents during Socializing mode, in the twentieth century, enjoyed playing there role in child care. Though harsh physical discipline had stopped by this time, parents “still spanked there children and insisted on instilling parental goals” through psychological manipulation (Miller 38).
Childrearing in Helping Mode of modern day is characterized by more unconditional love and less psychological manipulation. In fact, children raised during this psychogenic mode are unarguably open-minded, physically fit, responsible and more sympathetic to others in the society. Compared to children in any other earlier generation, evidence shows that today’s child is gentler, strong-willed, never or less depressed and generally well bred.
Dunlop, Jocelyn. English Apprenticeship and Child Labor, London: Allan Lane, 1912. Print.
Miller, Daniel. The changing American Parent: A study in Detroit Area, New York: Little Publishers, 1958. Print.