Disciplining Children in the 1950s

Written by lucy mcgregor
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Disciplining Children in the 1950s
Today's moms enact less harsh punishments on children than in the 1950s. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Disciplining children in the 1950s has often been regarded as strict, harsh and oppressive. In fact, children were often meant to be "seen but not heard." Benjamin Spock's "Baby and Child Care," which was first published in 1946, greatly influenced how children should be raised. His was one of the first works to promote a scientific view of child-rearing, and parents increasingly turned to advanced theories on parenthood to know how to discipline their children instead of turning to their friends or relatives for parenting advice.

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Theories of Child Discipline in the '50s

In the '50s, teachers and parents thought that punishing children reduced bad behaviour. However, research that came later seemed to prove that this was not the case. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a census among eyewitness accounts of what it was like to be a child in the '50s that discipline produced a greater fear of authority than what exists today. There was a greater consensus that good manners were more important in society back then and this impacted how people disciplined their children. The general thinking was "spare the rod and spoil the child." The studies that came out of institutionalised environments for children at this time also suggested that mothers should be with their children 24 hours and that anything else could prove damaging for the child's development. So, the phrase "when your father gets home" was used by housewives frequently across the country when they tried to discipline their child.

Discipline in Schools in the '50s

Every morning, when entering the classroom, a teacher would be greeted with a chorus of "good morning sir" or "good morning madam." At school, the teacher would have a bell made of nickel sitting on her desk, and whenever she rang it, she expected to garner the full attention of the class. Discipline was strict in schools, as boys got a caning and girls got slapped on the knuckles with a ruler. Corporal punishment was practised frequently, and this was taken for granted by the children's parents. Children were expected to be quiet and well-behaved at school. Detention was given for many misdemeanours, and children were never meant to speak back.

Discipline at Home in the '50s

Children had to stand up on any occasion when an adult would enter the room, even if that adult was the child's parent. On the bus, it was expected that boys would give up their seat for a woman or anyone senior in age and also give up their places in line for the bus. You could never leave the table at dinner time without asking permission first. Children had to say "please" and "thank you," and if they didn't use these words correctly, they would be informed by adults that they were being rude. When wearing a hat, it would be suitable etiquette to take it off when going indoors, into a shop or when talking to a lady on the street. A child would be taught to say, "I would like," and was taught never to say the words, "I want." Opening the door for someone, especially a woman or an adult, was necessary, as was letting her exit before the child did so.

Consequences of Discipline in the '50s

Today, many look back at the '50s and see the corporal punishments that adults inflicted on children as unnecessary and unfair. However, elders who look back at what life was like in the '50s see a lack of morals in today's society that affects how children grow up. Negative influences on children that did not exist in the '50s, such as violent video games and movies, are of continued concern. It logically follows that we can choose to pick out the "good" parts about what it was like to be a child in the 1950s and avoid the "bad" parts and integrate them into what it means to be a child today. A healthy dose of discipline and structure and a general respect toward society are all important lessons we can take from the discipline of the 1950s.

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