Saturday Evening Post
Cheating the Children
One of our millionaires who began life as a poor lad and did not succeed until middle age is said to enjoy the fun and luxury which his money brings him like a hot-headed boy. He goes to balls and the play incessantly; he buys pictures, yachts, automobiles, and exults and rejoices loudly in each, until he becomes a bore to his blasé companions.
“How can you find so much pleasure in such things?” one of them asked him the other day.
“Because they are new to me. Remember that I had nothing when I was a boy,” he answered.
Isn’t there a significant hint here to well-to-do American parents of to-day? They are cheating their children’s lives of certain enjoyments which rightfully belong to their mature age by forcing them upon them almost in their cradles.
Two generations ago the respectable, God-fearing father and mother in this country believed that the first virtue to teach their children was self-sacrifice. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was their maxim. The rod was not spared to the child, and the boy, as a rule, was forced to work hard for his education or living. Money was scarce in those days, and the root idea of religion was asceticism. Emerson’s mother laughed at him when he winced at their clothes in winter and an always empty stomach. What was cold or hunger, she cried, when Greek or philosophy could be conquered. Down to old age his body showed the scars of that cruel neglect in childhood; but he and his cult always glorified the Roman virtue of his mother.
Where will you find such Roman mothers now? We have gone to the other extreme in our treatment of children. Money is plenty. The “old man” has heaped up enough for his boys and girls. He stuffs them with luxuries, he roasts them in the fire of his prosperity, as live geese in Strasburg are stuffed and roasted—and with very much the same result to their brains and heart.
Other nations are wiser. The heir to an English dukedom is kept in the nursery until he is old enough to go to Eton and be thumped and mauled by other boys. A royal princess of ten eats her boiled mutton and pudding with her governess at noon, and wears clothes as simple as those of any farmer’s child. They never hear of “Society,” although they are being trained to rule over it.
The child of the wealthy American at two years old is probably a competitor in a Baby Show at Asbury Park, arrayed in satin and lace and stared at by thousands. Or if her parents are a little too well-bred for that they take her to hotels in summer or scamper over Europe with her until she is grown. She is, as a rule, overdressed and self-conscious. She has at twelve the jewels, the manners, and the effrontery of a middle-aged woman.
In all our large towns the children of wealthy parents have their theatre and card parties, their cotillions and balls, for which little boys engage their partners days in advance, and provide them with bouquets of costly roses. Their talk is of flirtation and engagements—a feeble parody of the feeble doings of their elders.
Now, is this state of things fair to the boys and girls?
At ten they are cheated out of the fun of childish games, out of the relish for plain food, out of the joyous ignorance, the dreams, the innocence which belong to childhood; and at thirty they are cheated out of all enjoyment or the pleasures of middle age because they were satiated with them when they wore kilts.