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Children’s Autonomy and Responsibility: An Analysis of Childrearing Advice

Abstract

Employing qualitative content analysis of 300 childrearing advice articles from Parents magazine, this paper maps historical changes in the depiction of parental authority and children’s autonomy. This popular text reveals increased autonomy for children in their private self-expression, especially in regard to activities of daily living, personal appearance, and defiance of parents. However, the magazine also portrays children’s diminished public autonomy as revealed through increasingly restricted freedom of movement and substantially delayed acceptance of meaningful responsibilities. An appreciation of popular childrearing advice as a measure of individualistic cultural values thus requires an understanding of larger social changes that shift attention from public participation toward private self-expression.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although the magazine has been continuously published since 1926, it has been published under 7 different titles: Children: The Magazine for Parents (1926–1929), Children: The Parents’ Magazine (1929), The Parents’ Magazine (1929–1965), Parents’ Magazine and Better Homemaking (1966–1969), Parents’ Magazine and Better Family Living (1969–1977), Parents’ Magazine (1977–1978), and Parents (1979–present).

  2. 2.

    Due to the digital conversion to plain text required by qualitative analysis software, page numbers for direct quotations from the magazine texts are unavailable. However, inclusive page numbers for all magazine articles are included in the full bibliographic references at the end of the paper.

  3. 3.

    Lareau (2003) notes that middle-class families are more likely than their working-class peers to tolerate and even encourage children’s verbal challenges to parents’ directions or opinions.

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Correspondence to Markella B. Rutherford.

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Rutherford, M.B. Children’s Autonomy and Responsibility: An Analysis of Childrearing Advice. Qual Sociol 32, 337–353 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-009-9136-2

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Keywords

  • Individualism
  • Personal autonomy
  • Parenting advice
  • Children and youth