Has parenting drastically changed over the past 50 years or has it naturally evolved?
What are the main goals when it comes to parenting? According to John Becker a marriage and family therapist in Plymouth, Michigan, the main goal in parenting is to “instill character and moral development in children” which he argues has remained relatively unchanged through time. (1)
We take a look at the different parenting techniques and theories over the past 50 years and how changes in technology, gender roles, family dynamics and culture shifts have shaped the way we bring up our kids. Explore with us a nostalgic look into the past as we also share the most popular after school activities for kids through the decades.
Parenting - what is it anyway?
The basic definition of ‘parenting’ is “the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adolescence”. (2)
Since the 1950s it has been fashionable to attach labels to different parenting techniques and theories. In 1971 clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind conducted an observational study involving parents and their children. This study concluded in Baumrind’s theory of the 4 important dimensions of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and passive. Back in the 1970s, these 4 theories covered a wide spectrum of parenting styles. From the authoritarian parent who is described as: ‘affectionate and engaged; sets boundaries and enforces consequences; uses reason, logic and appropriate negotiation; empowers a child in their own decision making.’ (3) To the passive parent who is noted to be ‘emotionally removed or indifferent; uninvolved; abdicates discipline; inconsistent and unpredictable’. (3)
These 4 theories were based on parent and child interaction reflecting on types of child responses to parental control such as enforcement of rules, structure to activities for their child and persistence in gaining their child’s compliance.
At first glance these 4 dimensions of parenting (albeit now over 45 years old) appear to be based on rules and regulations. It could even be argued that they were derived from setting strict boundaries in the first instance. By containing parenting into 4 distinct categories and styles what did this mean for the children growing up during the 1970s when these theories were introduced?
Although parents would have often been more ‘strict’ or ‘authoritative’ in their parenting style, children growing up in the 1970s or ‘Generation X’ were given a lot more freedom. After school activities involved children playing outside with their friends, usually unsupervised. There was a certain element of trust between the child and their parent(s). As maternity leave wasn’t introduced until 1975, women often left their jobs to bring up their children, with the father usually being the main breadwinner.
During the 1970s more families lived close by and could offer support and guidance to extended members of the family. Therefore discipline wasn’t always left up to parents to enforce. There was of course no digital age of social media or smartphones. So less children experienced less pressure to make friends ‘virtually’ and to compare themselves to their online peers on a minute-by-minute basis. Friendships were made around the streets where the family lived. Without text messaging and emails, if you made arrangements to meet somewhere you had to stick to them.
Fast forward to more recent times, has parenting drastically changed or naturally evolved? It is evident that parenting terms have somewhat changed. We now often hear the term ‘helicopter parenting’ in our popular culture.
What is ‘helicopter parenting’?
By definition ‘helicopter parenting’ refers to “a style of parents who are over focused on their children” and who “typically take too much responsibility for their children’s experiences, and specifically their successes or failures”. (4) What springs to mind when thinking about a ‘helicopter parent’ is a parent who ‘hovers’ over their child’s life.
Interestingly enough, in complete contrast to Baumrind’s rigid and structured 4 theories of parenting of the 1970s the modern form of parenting seems to be a paradox: not so strict on set rules or restrictions yet potentially experienced by both parent and child as restrictive. Could this be something to do with the shift in culture and technology since the 1970s?
You could argue that the children of ‘Generation Y’ have a lot less physical freedom than the generation before them. It is no longer acceptable to play outside unsupervised after school. There are more anxieties experienced by modern day parents. There are also more working families: for example in 2011 two-thirds of mums went back to work after having a baby, and a quarter of those went back to employment full time. (5). With generations of families more likely to live further away from each other, child care has had no option but to evolve over the decades. It is only natural for parents to have anxieties about not spending as much time with their children as they would like. Perhaps the term ‘helicopter parenting’ is a disposable and confused description of parents simply wanting to spend more time with their children.
However on the flip-side, you could argue that with the rise of digital and in particular social media, we now have the ultimate modern day tool for the ‘helicopter parent’ to navigate their way through their child or teenager’s lives online.
In conclusion, there is a definite correlation between the two very different parenting theories and the obvious shifts in society over time. With every big cultural shift, the way that we all live and work changes and develops. Surely this is to be expected. What does the future hold?
Parent the way you want!
The message here is very clear. Each family has an individual culture, place in society and parenting style. We shouldn’t shy away from these parenting labels as such because they all have their place in our modern digital world. We should instead draw upon elements of them and come to our own parenting conclusions. There are some elements from Baumrind’s theories that can be used in our modern society, just as there are some relevance in the stereotypical ‘helicopter’ theory.
Be the best parent you can be. As long as you and your family are happy and healthy, what else really matters?