Wondrous innocence: Print advertising and the origins of permissive child rearing in the US

Gary Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Early 20th-century American print advertising offered a new model of child rearing grounded in the presumed natural and positive wonderment of childhood that age destroyed and adults found rejuvenating. By focussing on advertising in major magazines that were designed to tap consumers' sentiments and longings, we find representations of parental values. Advertising not only associated commodities with the child's look of wonder, but suggested that children were the portals to the new world of consumption by their natural desires. Advertisers drew upon sentiments rooted in the romanticism of the 18th and early 19th centuries, but, by 1900, these ideas that associated children with a positive view of nature and timeless wonder were adapted to commercialization. While these ideas contrasted sharply with the rational/developmentalist ideas of early 20th-century child-rearing manuals, experts gradually adapted a permissive approach that largely coincided with the messages of advertising.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-201
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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