Like many parents, I spend a lot of time thinking about my parenting. I read books and research and think about my own childhood to make sense of how to best parent my sons. However, I do feel a strong sense from the older generation of, “Parents these days are too child-centered and too indulgent.”
That’s why I loved the recent article in The Globe and Mail entitled, “Don’t worry about what the ‘experts’ say: The kids are going to be all right.”
We hear about over-parenting and helicopter parents all the time. But according to Leah Mclaren's article, that can be a little ridiculous. She says,
“To say that our kids are suffering from their privilege, when in fact they largely are succeeding because of it, seems the most wildly entitled position of all.”
Even the idea that parents are too involved in school has been taken too far. No parent should do the entire project for a child or write essays. But in my brief time as a teacher, I would say that most of the failings of students came from parents who were disengaged or who were in denial rather than parents who were just too on top of them. There’s certainly a balance, but I think the kids whose parents stayed a little too on top of their work will turn out just fine. Those with parents who never came to meetings or were insistent that their child could not have done X are the ones I worry about.
And as the article points out, kids overall are doing better academically than those in previous generations.
And then there’s all the safety standards. These things—like carseats—actually do save lives. It’s fine to say, “We threw our kids in the backseat and they turned out fine.” But not all kids did, and new safety standards reflect that.
I often hear the older generation say, "Why would we give kids iPads on car trips? They should look out the window instead and talk with their family." However we tend to be much more geographically spread out from our families than previous generations which means more car trips. In addition, the restrictive nature of carseats makes it even harder. Our parents talk about pulling us out of our carseats to nurse us while the car was moving. That just doesn't happen anymore (or at least it shouldn't!).
Just like parents of previous generations, we have many decisions to make and maybe a little more free time in which to think about those decisions (and feel guilty about them!). For example, how do we teach our children to live in a world where even the free versions of games on my phone would have blown my mind? We are constantly trying to find the balance between teaching technology itself while also helping our kids (and ourselves!) know the value of technology-free time.
The article focuses on the public tantrum as a key symbol of this new parenting. Mclaren explains that parents today aren’t afraid of their child freaking out in public and instead of hissing at them, yelling, or spanking, they help the child work through it. Parents of yesterday criticize this as being too indulgent, when in actuality, this is helping shape the adults of the future.
The article explains that previous parents believed a good deal in behaviorism, the idea that a system of rewards and punishments works best. In reality, this is one of the least effective forms of discipline. Parents today are more holistic in their approach.
In one of my favorite sections, Mclaren says,
“The truth is, what we gain as a society by not smacking, threatening or ostracizing our kids when they misbehave is worth the price of your peace and quiet. I’m not saying we should simply ignore bad behavior in children: On the contrary, we need to meet it with compassion and reason and connection, even when what they’re giving us is full-on freakout. Modeling reasonable behavior is the very minimum we can do as good parents, and sitting with your kid through a public tantrum is part of that.”
It reminds me of another recent article on how we read the Bible to our kids. The author says that too often, Bible stories have been taught like fables, little moral lessons to help our kids develop virtues and behave well. This misses the overall story of the Bible, the picture of salvation. More children’s Bibles today tell stories in light of the big picture of redemption, which embraces the true complexity of the Christian life rather than presenting simplistic lessons.
Parents today are doing great, and the fact that we take parenting seriously is a great credit to the parents of yesterday. The way we parent reflects their failings and their successes, and that will be true of my own kids’ parenting as well.
It’s encouraging to know that we will make mistakes, we are overall doing okay, not failing our kids completely. I feel more confident now continuing to respond gently and patiently to my son's tantrum, even if it happens in the middle of the store. And I also feel confident that our generation's desire to parent in a reflective, thoughtful way is only going to help our children as they grow.