Let children be children and parents be parents

EVERYWHERE you turn, someone is warning of the dangers of ''over-parenting'', with the doomsayers usually those profiting from this new ''syndrome'' - the shrinks and authors peddling books.

''Don't be overprotective'', ''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.

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 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 children were deadshits - gluttonous, spoiled, ultra-competitive and obsessed with TV. In the 2005, remake starring Johnny Depp, there's just as many deadshits, their faults updated.

Psychohistorian Lloyd deMause argues that 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.''

Narcissistic, unhappy, sociopathic children are nothing new, 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 ol' days'' when junior stayed in the car while you went to the pub; when religion was more feared than child rape.

It was only during World War II, thanks to traumatised American soldiers, that psychology got its first shot at the mainstream. It was found that 49 per cent of combatants suffered mental problems.

A BBC documentary, The Century of the Self, reveals ''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 from 1943 to 1945, said his work necessitated travel by rail, during which he became curious about ''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.

The 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 soldiers' childhoods.

The initial discovery suggests humans - particularly 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 children following the rapacious baby boomers and cynical Gen X are also displaying character traits caused by a society that treats them as interchangeable consumers?

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

This article Let children be children and parents be parents was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.