Ambivalence reaches the level of schizophrenia in our treatment of violence among the young. Parents do not encourage violence, but neither do they take up arms against the industries which encourage it. Parents hide their eyes from the books and comics, slasher films, videos and lyrics which form the texture of an adolescent culture. While all successful societies have inhibited instinct, ours encourages it. Or at least we profess ourselves powerless to interfere with it.
We like the idea of childhood but are not always crazy about the kids we know. We like it, that is, when we are imagining our ownchildhoods. So part of our apparent appreciation of youth is simply envy.
Parents are used to being made to feel guilty about...their contribution to the population problem, the school tax burden, and declining test scores. They expect to be blamed by teachers and psychologists, if not by police. And they will be blamed by the children themselves. It is hardy a wonder, then, that they withdraw into what used to be called "permissiveness" but is really neglect.
Could it be that those who were reared in the postwar years really were spoiled, as we used to hear? Did a child-centered generation, raised in depression and war, produce a self-centered generation that resents children and parenthood?
In the years of the Roman Republic, before the Christian era, Roman education was meant to produce those character traits that would make the ideal family man. Children were taught primarily to be good to their families. To revere gods, one's parents, and the laws of the state were the primary lessons for Roman boys. Cicero described the goal of their child rearing as "self- control, combined with dutiful affection to parents, and kindliness to kindred.
Children became an obsessive theme in Victorian culture at the same time that they were being exploited as never before. As the horrors of life multiplied for some children, the image of childhood was increasingly exalted. Children became the last symbols of purity in a world which was seen as increasingly ugly.