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This study analyzed the contents of 48 parent education books, published from 1904 to 1979, to examine changes in their contents over time. Many professionals and laypersons have written books for parents about adolescent behavior, and generations of concerned parents have turned to these texts for advice. Previous studies of books written for the parents of younger children suggest that parent education materials have changed over time, reflecting advances in scientific findings about childhood. We examined books written for parents of adolescents to determine if the contents reflect evolving scientific understanding of adolescence. The results showed that changes in the contents and themes were subtle rather than dramatic and increasingly concerned the challenges facing parents and adolescents. Changing family demographics, increased adolescent sexual experimentation, and drug use became more common topics by the 1970s. This study provides an interesting perspective on the value and nature of parent education information.
It is widely recognized by scholars of adolescent development and behavior that adolescence is a social invention resulting from a variety of historically-determined factors (Bakan, 1971; Demos & Demos, 1969). These factors include a socially-recognized need to save youth from the dangers of urban life during the latter years of the 19th century (Teeter, 1988); prevailing economic conditions within capitalistic societies that enforce leisure or idleness among youth (Enright, Levy, Harris, & Lapsley, 1987); and efforts to prolong schooling to adequately prepare workers for the adult world of work (Elder, 1974; Mirel, 1991).
These factors have also undoubtedly contributed to cultural beliefs about the proper rearing of adolescents in the modern world. The demands present in raising adolescents to independent adulthood have been a source of great anxiety for many parents over the years. Concerned parents often turn to experts for advice on child rearing and to acquire a better understanding of child and adolescent development and behavior (Young, 1990). Advances in developmental scientists' knowledge about adolescence over the recent century have been remarkable. Equally impressive are the efforts by developmentalists to provide accurate, useful information to parents about developmental phenomena and normative behavior of youth (McCall, Gregory, & Murray, 1984). The implicit goal of these activities is to improve the lives of children and youth through effective parent education. Information about child development has been provided to parents in parent education classes, on television, in radio and films, and in printed materials, such as pamphlets, magazine articles, and books. This study examines how the contents of parenting books published over a 75-year period have changed to reflect advances in scientific understanding of adolescent development. The study thereby contributes to the small literature base on parent education books by documenting and analyzing these changes.
G. Stanley Hall (1904) is acknowledged to have been the catalyst for the modern study of youth with the publication of his two-volume work Adolescence (1904). Hall's work--although of somewhat dubious scientific merit--examined developments occurring during the years from 12 to 25 and was directed toward a professional, rather than a lay, audience. Since that time, a number of individuals--professionals, scholars, youth workers, laypersons, and parents--have written extensively on the subject of adolescent behavior and growth. Many of these writings, appearing in book form, were directed to parents rather than to professionals. The intent of most such books has been to provide the information deemed necessary to increase parents' confidence and competence (Clarke-Stewart, 1978).
According to Klausner (1968), the popular literature on child rearing contains a mix of scientific findings, folk wisdom, and ideology; that is, cultural beliefs about the nature of adolescence and the role of adolescents in society. As such, these books have been invaluable to family life professionals as resources for their client families. Infancy and adolescence are two developmental periods in which parents are most likely to need information about development because of the rapid and remarkable changes occurring during these ages. Although books for the parents of young children, such as Dr. Spock's (1946) Commonsense Book of Baby and Child Care, are tremendously popular, no less important are books for the parents of adolescents. The number of these books has steadily increased over the decades of this century, perhaps reflecting society's growing preoccupation with the perceived problems of teenagers--and parents' difficulties in raising them.
There are several likely explanations why parents of adolescents have been thought to need advice and assistance in raising their children to adulthood. First, the belief that adolescence is a period of "storm and stress" has been fairly widespread in popular culture (Peterson, 1993) and in scientific circles (Blos, 1962; Freud, 1958; Hall, 1904). Second, there is an associated belief that a "generation gap" precludes adolescents from understanding or accepting their parents' values and beliefs (Coleman, 1961; President's Science Advisory Committee, 1973). Third, there is a perception that the problems arising from an increasingly complex and troubled society have contributed to a number of adolescent problems, such as delinquency, drug and alcohol use, school failure, and teen pregnancy (Steinberg & Levine, 1990; Takanishi, 1993). Finally, there is an assumption that parents need instruction and guidance in raising their children to be happy, healthy, and productive persons (Clarke-Stewart, 1978; Rosenberg & Reppucci, 1985).
Previous studies have examined the contents of newspaper and magazine articles containing information for parents about child development, assessed the accuracy of this information, and documented changes in the information over time (Ojemann & Associates, 1948; Young, 1990). Ojemann and Associates (1948), for example, found that magazine and newspaper publishers had increasingly recognized the importance of a scientific basis, and scientific accuracy, for their articles on child development. Despite this awareness, Ojemann and Associates also found that much of the child development information published over three historical periods (1904-1905, 1924-1925, 1944-1945) in popular magazines (e.g., Ladies' Home Journal) and major metropolitan newspapers (e.g., Chicago Tribune, New York Post) was vague and uninformative. Furthermore, Young (1990) analyzed the contents of issues of Parents Magazine and Infant Care published between 1955 and 1984 and found no direct correspondence between scientific knowledge and the information conveyed to parents. These studies suggest that parent education materials may not provide the most up-to-date, nor the most accurate, information regarding child development. Also, as attitudes and values change over historical periods (e.g., beliefs about the value of breast-feeding or more liberal sexual mores), such changes may influence the kinds of information presented to parents in the press. Similar analyses of the contents of parent education books specific to adolescent development are rare in the literature.
Klausner (1968), however, content analyzed 199 child-rearing manuals published from 1802 to 1967. These manuals, consisting of books and pamphlets written by …