Good ole days

Everywhere you turn nowadays someone's warning of the dangers of "over-parenting", with the doomsayers usually those most likely to profit from this new 'syndrome' - the shrinks and authors peddling books.

"Don't be over-protective", "let kids fail", "don't coddle 'em", say 'experts' trundling out case-studies of 10-year-olds who can't cut up their food or overindulged Gen Y patients who feel unfulfilled.

Certainly they exist; what bothers me is the conceit children today are somehow worse off mentally because their parents drove them to school or hugged them too friggin' much.

Remember the classic 1964 Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which became the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder? Four out of five kids were moronic - gluttonous, spoiled, ultra-competitive and obsessed with TV. In the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp? Just as many morons, their faults updated.

Leading psycho-historian, Lloyd deMause, argues throughout history, adults habitually labelled children "beasts, sinful, greedy, arrogant, lumps of flesh, vile, polluted, enemies, vipers and fiends".

"Parents, until relatively recently, were so frightened of and so hated their newborn infants they killed them by the billions, routinely sent them out to neglectful wet-nurses, starved, mutilated, raped and beat them so badly [they would] today be put in jail for child abuse," writes deMause.

Narcissistic, unhappy, sociopathic children are nothing new - we mass produce them - because they grow up to be narcissistic, unhappy, sociopathic adults - and there are plenty older than 30.

Despite this, people affect nostalgia for the "good ole days": When junior stayed in the car while you went to the pub and drove home drunk; when religion was more feared than child rape and you just sent sons to uni.

We forget it was only during World War II, thanks to traumatised American soldiers, psychology got its first shot at the mainstream. Forty-nine per cent of these combatants suffered mental problems, so a massive study by psychiatrists was undertaken, commissioned by a panicked US military.


The BBC documentary, The Century of Self, revealed "this was the first time anyone had paid such attention to the feelings and anxieties of ordinary people".

Professor Martin Bergmann, a US Army psychoanalyst between 1943-45, said his work necessitated travel by rail, during which he was "enormously curious as to what goes on in those little towns the train was passing".

"After my work in the army, I knew ... because I saw so many people who came from there and I understood their aspirations, their disappointments," he said.

Bergmann and his colleagues' findings were startling and worrying for the US government: Americans were far more irrational and troubled than suspected and thanks to Freudian thought, the problem was blamed not on war, but the soldier's childhoods.

It's hard to overestimate the influence the subsequent pervasiveness of Freudian Theory had on global culture - in government policy, health care, advertising, public relations, political focus groups, self help and psychology.

What the initial discovery suggests is humans - particularly us living in western, industrialised communities - have always been a pretty anxious, disturbed bunch; it's just no-one bothered to ask or care.

Is it so staggering the kids following the rapacious Baby Boomers and cynical Gen X are also displaying character traits caused by the stress and artifice of a society that treats them as interchangeable consumers?

Sometimes, I suspect the disquiet voiced about our younger generations, because they "want more" are "restless" or "disloyal to employers", is simply because they question the hive mentality us oldies swallowed hook, line and sinker.