By the late nineteenth century, childhood, as a special period of life, had been made precious in the United States and in other societies in the West. Reformers sought to remove children from adult arenas, especially the world of work, but also from street activities associated with adult vice and immorality. As they acted to keep children in school for longer periods and to extend upward the age of female consent to sexual activity, such reformers as Jane Addams and Felix Adler, and organizations like the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in various states, succeeded in extending the period of childhood upward into adolescence in the attempt to protect more and more children from the hazards of industrial and urban life. In extending the sentimental visions of childhood that was a Victorian middle-class convention to all children and adolescents, many Americans hoped that the twentieth century would truly become the Century of the Child, in Swedish feminist Ellen Key's compelling phrase.
Culturally, an expanded and isolated childhood in the twentieth century turned out to have its own hazards. One of the constant themes of twentieth century culture has been the belief that succeeding generations of children are out of control and that families are less and less able to responsibly contain and direct their children's behavior. Where middleclass reformers once condemned immigrants and slum dwellers for mistreating and inadequately supervising their children, in the twentieth century this criticism was turned inward. Respectable families, including the most privileged, seemed to have lost the ability to pass on their own beliefs, values, and ideals. This plaint was first heard loudly and clearly in the 1920s, as “flaming youth” invaded the colleges and the living rooms of America. It was repeated thereafter regularly for the rest of the century when the bobby-soxers gave way to the rock 'n' roll generation of the 1950s, and the rebels of the 1960s gave way to the generation Xers of the 1980s. There was something about the very nature of a cosseted and pampered youth that created a cultural urge to self-condemnation. In the fol