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Rescuing Rousseau:  Part I– The Misguided Helicopter Parent

I disliked Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) for many years. Most of what I knew of Rousseau came from textbooks and intellectuals so I decided to take him on directly by reading his “Treatises on Education”, better known as “Emile”. I think we may be able to rescue some of Rousseau.

He had many advocates and enemies in his day and today. His contemporary Voltaire said of his book “Emile,”

“A hodgepodge of a silly wet nurse in four volumes, with forty pages against Christianity, among the boldest ever known...He says as many hurtful things against the philosophers as against Jesus Christ, but the philosophers will be more indulgent than the priests.”

Modern Education is often applied to the ideas of Rousseau, and I am no fan of modern education. After reading Rousseau, it would appear he is less to blame and the growth of child psychology is more of the culprit.

Reading “Emile” almost from the start you can find treasures and two paragraphs later want to throw the book across the room. So, I started to collect what I found to be the “better” ideas and assemble them.

What I first discovered was great wisdom needed for modern parents. The growing issues in our country: parents seeking to guard their children from every adversity, a trust in the child before the teacher, gifting every want to the child and raising children instead of adults. Rousseau reaches out from the grave to denounce helicopter parenting.

“But a woman might miss the right way by taking an opposite course: when instead of neglecting her motherly duties, she carries them to the extreme; when she makes of her child an idol; when she augments or nourishes his weakness in order to prevent him from feeling it.” Book First, Pg. 12,”Émile”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Today many parents put their children before all others, even above their spouse. Nothing could be worse for a family than to make the children centric. Children require a wealth of time and commitment, but this does not require us to fill every minute ensuring they are entertained or occupied.

Rousseau goes on further addressing this concept of parenting:

“We think only of protecting our child, but this is not enough. We ought to teach him to protect himself when he has become a man; to bear the blows of destiny; to brave opulence and misery; to live, if need be, amid the snows of Iceland or the burning rocks of Malta.” Book First, Pg. 9-10,”Émile”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau would have us provide children only what they need to live. He would have us introduce them to difficult conditions. Prepare them for great cold and great heat and for periods of fasting instead of constant access to food - to prepare them for managing the difficulties of life and to appreciate times of comfort and excess.

“Observe Nature, and follow the route which she traces for you. She is ever exciting children to activity; she hardens the constitution by trials of every sort; she teaches them at an early hour what suffering and pains are.” Book First, Pg. 13,”Émile”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Francis Schaeffer would have us consider our teaching of children even further, and that our ultimate responsibility is to prepare them for the moment of their death.

Rousseau’s warning from the past was needed in the 90s in the raising of children. He can help us yet today.

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