Shaping Childhood

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What part has religion played in the history of child-rearing? How do we persuade children to behave rationally and how should we exercise adult authority? What use do we make of their innocence and how do we cope with their sexuality? Has history left us with ideas about the child which make no sense in the prevailing conditions of the late twentieth century? In Shaping Childhood these questions are explored through themes from the history of childhood. The myth of the repressive Puritan parent is explored by looking at Puritan ideals of child-rearing. Treating the child as if it were rational seemed to Locke the best way to approach child-rearing, but Rousseau was sceptical of adult manipulation and Romanticism could be subversive of both religion and reason as sources of discipline in child-rearing. The Victorians inherited many of the contradictions these approaches gave rise to, and they added a complication of their own through an aesthetic response to childhood's beauty. Currently, with instability in household formation and with the child exposed to ever more sophisticated means of communication, parents, teachers and others struggle to make sense of this ambiguous historical legacy. Shaping Childhood examines the ways in which broad cultural forces such as religion, literature and mass consumption influence contemporary parenting and locates child professionals, within the context of these forces.

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