Dr. Spock on Parenting: Did He Get It Right?

There are many self-help books for parents on the market, but one of the most influential was written by Benjamin Spock. Was his advice good?

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Baby and Child Care, which was published in 1946 by Benjamin Spock and became an international best-seller. This book is considered one of the most influential works of the 20th century. But Dr. Spock’s book has also been very controversial—being both praised and vilified (depending on one’s viewpoint).

After reading it recently, I found his book filled with many practical tips, but it has one fundamental flaw: his underlying philosophy is rooted in humanism, a philosophical approach that attributes innate goodness to human beings. 

But is that really true? Is it human nature to be positive and loving?

The humanistic perspective

Humanism is more than just an opinion on human nature, it is also a perspective that pervades many disciplines and is essentially an attempt to explain the world from a solely secular perspective. Consider the ways this perspective has influenced parenting:

1. Independent thinking should be promoted over strict obedience or adherence to rules.

2. Demand the best for your children—not necessarily the best from your children.

3. Feeling good is more important than doing good.

4. Physical possessions can increase happiness, so buy your kids what they want, when they want it so they don’t feel deprived.

What has been the result of this philosophy? A number of things: individualism, entitlement, self-importance, unrealism and materialism.

The consequences for today

Jean Twenge, in her book Generation Me, addresses the consequences of parenting from a humanistic approach. Though technically she is writing about the Millennial Generation (those born in the 1980s and ’90s), Dr. Twenge believes “me” is an apt description of this generation. Because of the application of the above parenting principles, Gen Me’ers have been groomed since birth to put themselves first.

God’s Word has been largely dismissed as a guidebook for life—including parenting. For decades, children have been fed a diet of “me, me, me,” which has had an effect on their attitudes and perspective. Dr. Twenge includes a number of quotes from Millennials that demonstrate common attitudes:

  • “I couldn’t care less how I am viewed by society. I live my life according to the morals, views, and standards that I create” (Melissa, 20).
  • “His new motto was ‘Do what’s best for Jason. I had to make me happy; I had to do what was best for myself in every situation’” (Jason, 25).
  • “As long as I believe in myself, I really do not care what others think” (Rachel, 21).

(The above quotes were taken from pages 20 and 49 of the 2006 edition of Generation Me.)

Unfortunately, as Dr. Twenge points out, young people are less prepared for the challenges of the world than ever before because many enter society with greater self-esteem and inflated expectations but then become stressed, depressed and finally apathetic when the realities of life sink in.

Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are increasing problems. Dr. Twenge writes, “Our growing tendency to put the self first leads to unparalleled freedom, but it also creates an enormous amount of pressure on us to stand alone” (p. 109). Expecting more out of life than life has to offer can be a recipe for crippling disappointment.

The missing perspective

Sadly, God’s Word has been largely dismissed as a guidebook for life—including parenting. The perspective of the Bible was not embraced by Dr. Spock, so many solid, timeless principles have been neglected by parents and Generation Me’ers. In many ways, the Bible directly contradicts the humanistic perspective.

The Bible shows clearly that human nature is not to be exalted or innately trusted:

  • “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
  • “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Bible prophesied about how individuals would be in the end times: “For men [and women] will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

We are surrounded by these traits today, and many of them are the result of the humanistic approach. In general, the common theme of all of these traits is selfishness.

While Dr. Spock undoubtedly had good intentions, his understanding and teachings were based on a flawed philosophy. He is just another example of mankind rejecting God’s perspective and not knowing the way to go (Jeremiah 10:23).

If you are raising children or expect to raise children in the future, be aware of the humanistic perspective that has crept into many self-help books. Turn to the Bible for a proper perspective and find parenting authors who also respect and promote the biblical perspective.

Life, Hope & Truth has published many resources on parenting issues. Explore the “Parenting” section of our site to read articles on parenting written from a biblical perspective.

About the Author

Debbie Caudle

Debbie Caudle

From Canada to California and then Wyoming to Texas, Debbie Caudle’s journey has taken a lot of twists and turns, but through it all she’s had a lifelong desire to help others improve their lives. She has worked over 25 rewarding years as a licensed counselor, working with individuals, couples, children and families. This experience has taught her a lot about the challenges people face in conquering their worst fears and hurdling their toughest obstacles. 

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