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Rosseau’s Guide to Parenting in the 21st Century

March 23, 2011

Rosseau emphasized the influential role parents have in forming their children’s outlook on life. He stressed the importance of education in his book Emile, the Perfect Child, and how children should not be forced to learn but choose. Beyond education, Rosseau noted that parents should raise their children to live in society without giving in to social pressures or inequalities.

I decided to consider how Rosseau would advise parents to raise their children in a twenty-first Western society. Rather than considering Rosseau’s principles on a societal level, I decided to apply his thoughts to a basic family structure and modern parenting issues.


Facebook has evolved into a cyber world of bragging through status updates, photos and lists of thousands of friends. People “depend” on “friends” to write on their wall, tag pictures or post updates involving them in order to feel socially superior. This leads to social inequalities and a bad civilization.


Rosseau would despise any form of designer clothing or material object that showcased a person’s wealth. Instead, parents should promote simple self-love to their children, but nothing beyond that. Designer jeans would lead children to develop egocentrism, making them believe that they are better than their peers. This egocentric attitude would evolve into adulthood and foster social inequality.


Rosseau explicitly writes that human beings are naturally unequal and society should accept this innate inequality among individuals. Specifically, he makes it clear that females are inferior to males in terms of intelligence and physical capabilities. Although parents should unconditionally love and support their children, I think Rosseau would stress that parents teach there are natural inequalities among humans, which are different than social inequalities.


According to Rosseau, the first true artificial creation among human beings is that of property. If children are raised to believe that they inherently “own” the space in which they live, they will contribute to social inequality. By having siblings share a bedroom and making it a communal area, parents can avoid their children feeling entitled.


Considering Rosseau’s emphasis on the importance of the general will over individuals’ aggregate will, it can be assumed that he would support families sitting down to dinner together every night and eating the same meal, chosen by the majority of the family. Decisions in a “Rosseau household” would be made on the basis of what’s best for the family as a whole. Children, as well as parents, must sacrifice individuals preferences in order for the family to benefit.

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