What would you think of a society that encouraged their teenaged children to spend the night with the opposite sex? That sounds like a headline in modern America. Would you believe that practice was rampant in the 1700s in New England? Right in the heart of the land of the Puritans? Perhaps they weren't as puritanical as we think.
I'm almost finished with George Marsden's biography of Jonathan Edwards titled "Jonathan Edwards: A Life." (Methinks Marsden could've put a little more thought into the title).
Anyway, on page 130, Marsden is writing of the cultural temperature of Edwards' day and says this regarding Edwards' lengthy catalog of vices:
The fault lay first of all with parents. Family government and education, the keystone of the old Puritan social system, had fallen badly in decline. Parents, [Edwards] observed, were reacting against what they felt were too strict upbringings. The most notorious result was the "amazing" (parenthesis in original) impurities tolerated among the youth in recent years. Not only was lasciviousness encouraged by nightwalking and similar frivolities, but New England parents allowed practices that are "looked upon as shameful and disgraceful at Canada, New York and England." Everyone knew that he referred to the New England practice of "bundling" in which parents allowed young people to spend the night in bed together partly clothed. "I believe there is not a country in the Christian world," Edwards warned, "however debauched and vicious, where parents indulge their children in such liberties in company-keeping as they do in this country - that is, amongst those who pretend to keep the credit of their children. Such things are as commonly winked at by parents here, trusting in their children that they won't give way to temptation, would in almost any country ruin a person's reputation and be looked upon as sufficient evidence of a prostitute."Will parents never learn? In that day, as in this one, too many parents have neglected their duty as parents in order to be a better buddy to their children. They have fallen for the lie that kids know what is best for kids. I don't know if the practice mentioned above is common anywhere anymore, but the scenario itself is repeated enough: kids decide what is right and wrong and acceptable for themselves. So many parents leave it up to the children to decide whether or not to drink, smoke, attend church, engage in sexual activity of some kind and more. Is this wise? Of course not. A parent with even moderate brain activity knows better.
Marsden reveals the outcome of these Puritan parents' shortsighted views:
Bundling, which was supposed to be a way of getting acquainted without sexual intercourse, did not always work as advertised. Pregnancies before marriage were rising dramatically in New England. Even in well-churched Northampton, where premarital pregnancies were rarer than in some parts of the region, the figure had recently risen to one in ten first children born within eight months of marriage. Premarital sex was commonplace. Even when it resulted in pregnancy, so long as the couple married, there was no longer much stigma involved. Alluding to that new attitude, Jonathan perceived another alarming decline. "And there is not that discountenance of such things as there formerly used to be. It is not now such a discredit; 'tis not accounted such a blot and disgrace to a person. Formerly, things were accounted such a wound as a person never could get over as long as he lived. That ben't much minded: now they are so bold and impudent, that they are not ashamed to hold up their heads."Before we get too sanctimonious, let us think of things done today by teens that are "winked at" by parents - things that were shameful when today's parents were teens.
When will we learn?