How Dr. Spock is Destroying America
In the last 50 years our nation has taken a moral nosedive.
Since 1960 the rate of violent crimes has more than tripled. Every day there are news reports of heinous crimes unheard of in America a generation ago. Children murder their playmates, their teachers, and their parents. Teenage mothers abandon their newborn babies in trashcans, and every year students commit carnage on their classmates. Our culture has sunk so low that children are no longer safe with their teachers in school or at church – scores of men and women are arrested every year for preying on the children under their care.
The sexual revolution that started in the 60’s continues with many casualties. Promiscuity has become so rampant that 1 of every 4 teenage girls now has a sexually transmitted infection. In the last 5 decades practices have become so deviant that the number of distinct STD’s had risen from 5 to more than 50 – a sudden increase of a thousand percent. Obsession with sexual violence has brought a 318% increase in sexual assault.
Our nation is in severe moral decline and the descent is not slowing. The church is not far behind.
As a parenting counselor, it is not too difficult to trace the cause of our troubles back to its origin. I hate to say it, but our problem started with American icon, Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Spock’s child rearing book “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” first published in 1946, sold 750,000 copies the first year, has since sold over 50 million copies, and is sixth in sales only to the Bible. Life magazine certified the depth of his influence, naming Spock among the 100 most important people of the twentieth century.
America just happened to be ripe for Spock's ideas. World War II had ended and we were experiencing great prosperity. With prosperity comes indulgence and an appetite for luxury. We began to raise our children with the same indulgent view we were developing. On top of this, as America had elevated psychological and sociological experts we had lost confidence in ourselves as parents. Insecurity caused parents to be open to new ideas from an “expert.”
Within a decade after Spock’s first book, a perceptible change began to develop in American families. Under Spock’s influence, parents were watching their children become sassy and contentious, and increasing numbers were seeing them become juvenile delinquents and criminals. Over the last 50 years this out-of-control behavior has led to a 300 percent increase in the rate of violent crime.
As the crime rate started to crawl up, SAT scores began to drop. Teenagers began to exercise less moral restraint and revealed an increasing contempt for authority. The free-love hippy movement and student protests were the inevitable outcomes of Spock-inspired parenting.
Doctor Spock was aware of his negative influence upon parents. In a 1968 interview with the New York Times, Spock admitted that the first edition of his child-rearing book had contributed to an increase of permissive parenting in America. “Parents began to be afraid to impose on the child in any way," he said. In his 1957 edition he tried to remedy that, but his rewrite didn’t succeed. Spock failed to see the deeper problems of his philosophy, so subsequent editions continued to promote parenting that cultivated narcissism, entitlement, and victim thinking.
Instead of stressing the importance of teaching self-denial and respect for authority, Spock emphasized accommodating children’s feelings and catering to their preferences. No longer did children learn they could endure Brussels sprouts and suffer through daily chores. Using Spock’s approach, parents began to feed self-indulgence instead of instilling self-control – homes were becoming less parent-directed and more child-centered. As parents elevated children’s “freedom of expression” and natural cravings, children became more outspoken, defiant, and demanding of gratification. In fact, they came to view gratification as a “right.”
Don't get me wrong. Spock did not intentionally set out to sabotage America. He was a sincere man who wrote his book in response to a cold, authoritarian philosophy of parenting that had been dominant in America. For years, parents had been told to withhold affection from their children -- not to touch them too often -- not to respond to their tears. Understanding of children had not been encouraged and fathers had held a minor role in their nurture and care. These things distressed Spock, and they would have upset me, had I been born back then. Children need our tender affection, understanding, and respect. However, Spock’s solutions reflected total ignorance of the hedonistic bent of human nature, and fostered an over-exalted sense of self-importance in children.
One of the flaws in Spock’s approach was that he promoted conflicting goals. He wanted children to learn to follow the leadership of their parents, but he also wanted them to be outspoken and independent from a young age. His teaching was inadvertently skewed in favor of raising children to think more of themselves than others -- particularly those in authority over them.
In the 1968 New York Times interview Spock actually admitted that he hoped he had contributed to the contempt for authority demonstrated by teens in the 60’s. “I would be proud if the idealism and militancy of youth today were caused by my book," he said.
Is it any surprise that Spock participated with teenagers in protests and was arrested multiple times in the 60’s because of his contempt for governmental authority? And was it any more of a surprise when he entered the 1972 presidential race as the candidate for the socialist People’s Party? His political actions revealed the underlying philosophy of his book.
As Spock’s radical parenting ideas grew in popularity other “experts” jumped on the bandwagon and promoted their own versions of indulgent child rearing. Since 1946 parenting approaches that foster narcissism and contempt for authority have become the accepted norm in higher education and subsequently in society. It is a simple matter to trace the dominant hedonism of our adult culture back to Spock’s influence.
Although many will read this and readily distance themselves from Spock or any secular philosophy, too few grasp the seductive nature of modern ideas. What Spock did was appeal to parental love. He steered parents away from the seemingly cold, objective pursuit of character training and toward their own feelings of nurture. Rather than tell parents the truth that love means doing what is right for our children despite our feelings of empathy, he directed them to let their “feelings" guide them. “Trust your own instincts,” he said. Before people realized it, he had redefined love as “indulgence.”
This has left the majority of mommies feeling that to love their children, they must make them happy. If little junior doesn’t want to stay on Mommy’s lap, they let him down. If he refuses to eat his broccoli, they give him pizza and a sugared vitamin. If he loses a toy, breaks a window, or receives a parking ticket, they pay for his negligence. In current generations, to “love” means to rescue children from challenges, deprivation, and the consequences of their actions.
For most of history, such indulgence was considered “spoiling a child.” Many parents who live for their children’s happiness admit that they “spoil them a little,” but such practices are outrageous, since to “spoil” something is to “ruin” it. Our culture now suffers great moral decline and our lawmakers legislate like indulgent parents, because of such a significant misunderstanding of love and discipline.
This modern idea of being guided by feelings stands in contrast to the Bible. Solomon instructed us to “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying“ (Prov 19:18). God made clear that our feelings cannot always be trusted, particularly in the area of parenting. He went on to say that the proof of love is the willingness to bring pain through discipline:
"For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives." 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons... 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12:6-8,11).
Benjamin Spock died in 1998, and my intent is not to malign a man in the grave -- it is simply to identify and abandon the polluted well from which we have been drinking. America may be sinking, but we don’t have to go down with her. Believers must turn away from the wisdom of the world and look to the Bible to devise a plan of training and discipline that will bear good and lasting fruit.
For a more extensive discussion on how parents have the power to shape culture and politics of a nation, check out my book “Born Liberal Raised Right: How to Rescue America from Moral Decline -- One Family at a Time” at www.rebbradley.net