Saturday, March 12, 2011

Daisy Miller

As a child, I was often told that children should be seen and not heard. Today, children are indulged far too much. At least it seems that way to me. I was reminded of this permissive attitude as I was having lunch at a neighborhood restaurant.

At the table next to mine were two children between the ages of 7-10. They were completely out of control. They were jumping on their chairs, throwing utensils on the floor, screaming their lungs out, and generally making a playground out of the restaurant. Their parents did nothing.

Today the child's happiness is all-important. But what about the parents' happiness or the happiness of the causal observer? A good old-fashioned spanking is out of the question: no modern child-rearing manual would permit such barbarity. You're not even allowed to shout at a child because he or she might never recover from the dreadful traumatic experience. Who knows what deep psychological wounds could be inflicted.

So modern parents bend over backwards to avoid giving their children complexes, which a hundred years ago hadn't been heard of. Certainly, a child needs love, but the excessive permissiveness of modern parenting is surely doing more harm than good. Just look at today's self-absorbed, egocentric, and selfish adults, many of whom have been reared on this modern approach.

Yet, excessive permissiveness isn't a new phenomena. It has been around for a long time. Henry James (1843-1916) wrote about it in his 1878 novella, Daisy Miller. I recently re-read Daisy Miller and then watched the 1974 film version by Peter Bogdanovich. I enjoyed both the film and the novella. Daisy Miller is a fascinating work that says more about growing up in present day America or Europe than any contemporary novel or film. The book is still very relevant. I wish I had a given a copy of the book to the parents of those two out of control kids. Perhaps, they could have learned something. 

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