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Adult Supervision Required

Private Freedom and Public Constraints for Parents and Children

Markella B. Rutherford

Publication Year: 2011

Adult Supervision Required considers the contradictory ways in which contemporary American culture has imagined individual autonomy for parents and children. In many ways, today’s parents and children have more freedom than ever before. There is widespread respect for children’s autonomy as distinct individuals, and a broad range of parenting styles are flourishing. Yet it may also be fair to say that there is an unprecedented fear of children’s and parents’ freedom. Dread about Amber Alerts and “stranger danger” have put an end to the unsupervised outdoor play enjoyed by earlier generations of suburban kids. Similarly, fear of bad parenting has not only given rise to a cottage industry of advice books for anxious parents, but has also granted state agencies greater power to police the family.

Using popular parenting advice literature as a springboard for a broader sociological analysis of the American family, Markella B. Rutherford explores how our increasingly psychological conception of the family might be jeopardizing our appreciation for parents’ and children’s public lives and civil liberties.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful for the many friends, colleagues, family members, and students who expressed an interest in my ideas and encouraged me in this work during the past few years. First and foremost, I thank all the parents who allowed me to interview...

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pp. 1-12

It’s a cool and rainy summer morning, and I’m sitting in Michelle’s living room with Michelle and Nadine, while their children are having a play date.1 Their seven-, five-, and four-year olds are upstairs in a bedroom playing...

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1. Take It with a Grain of Salt: How Parents Encounter Experts and Advice

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pp. 13-39

During the twentieth century, parents relied heavily on professional advice for scientific knowledge about children and the best childrearing practices. A constant undercurrent of tension, however, regarded the scope of such professional...

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2. Seen and Heard: Children’s Growing Freedom at Home

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pp. 40-59

When discussing discipline, the parents I interviewed often noted the increasing outspokenness of children and the decreasing sense of both boundaries and parental authority at home (usually, though, in reference...

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3. Keeping Tabs on Kids: Children’s Shrinking Public Autonomy

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pp. 60-88

A number of social changes—anxieties about children’s safety, increased reliance upon private automobile transportation, the construction of public space as adult space, changing work patterns and time pressures in families...

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4. Mixed Messages about Responsibility: Children’s Duties and the Work of Parenting

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pp. 89-119

In this chapter, I explore the decreased recognition of children as public participants and contributors through the twentieth-century cultural construction of childhood as a period of sharply limited responsibility. At the beginning of the twentieth...

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5. Psychology’s Child: Emotional Autonomy and the Privatization of the Self

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pp. 120-148

In the twentieth century, the growing emphasis in parenting advice on children’s emotional development revealed that emotional agency has become increasingly central to childhood socialization. In the last few decades, parenting advice...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 149-161

During the twentieth century, demographic, cultural, and economic changes intensified the privatization of the family, with significant implications for both parenting and childhood. Parents have been granted...

Appendix A: Sampling and Coding Procedures for Magazine Texts

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pp. 163-165

Appendix B: Interview Methods and Summary Description of Respondents

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pp. 167-168


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pp. 169-188


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pp. 189-201


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pp. 203-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780813552217
E-ISBN-10: 0813552214
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813551494

Page Count: 226
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Parenting -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Child rearing -- United States.
  • Parent and child -- United States.
  • Mass media and families -- United States.
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