From a Child: Parenting Today vs. Twenty Years Ago

IMG_20150723_090256By Tasmin Pepin-Perry

Whenever I start a discussion about parenting, especially if speaking to a parent, I always get the question “How would you know anything about parenting. Do you have children?” It’s usually in defense of a statement I may have made about parenting today versus years ago when I was younger. While it is true that I am not a parent that does not mean that I am blind to the changes that have happened over the past few decades. Especially in the past two. You see at one point I was a child. I was 10 years old twenty years ago to be exact. The way in which my parents raised my brother and I, in a lot of ways, is very different from the way I see some parents raise their children these days. I think you do a disservice when you don’t at least listen to the opinions of those who are not parents. I only say this because at some point all of us were children. We can all speak to what worked well and what didn’t. Those of us who have open minds can also agree that there are differences to parenting now than twenty years ago. Child behavior hasn’t changed. Parenting has.

For instance, I think one of the fundamental differences that I’ve seen in parenting is that twenty years ago it seemed like the focus was on a child’s character. Raising a respectful, responsible, and resourceful individual. I feel like today the focus is more on a child’s self esteem. You see it a lot in the younger children who play sports. In a lot of children’s sports they aren’t keeping score any longer so as not to upset the team that’s losing. However, on the occasions that they are keeping score, and a team is being blown out the refs usually end the game than and there instead of letting it finish out. You hear about how everyone is a “winner”. The problem with this idea is that in the real world, not everyone is a “winner”. It’s not a fair or even playing field in life. It builds a child’s character to know what it feels like to lose and be able to cope with it appropriately. Not every child will be good at every sport. Learning at a young age that you may or may not have a skill that others have is very important. It means when you get into adulthood you can adapt better. I also feel like when I was growing up parents valued good manners, while parents these days seem to value skills and accomplishments. The concern is how well children are doing in school, on placement tests, and on standardized tests. It’s not as much about the individual child as it is about rating one child against another. But it’s fair to say that some of that does come from societal pressures. More and more academics are turning towards placement tests and standardized tests as the determination on how successful a child will be. School districts are teaching math under the common core and as I’ve heard adults say “if I don’t understand the math common core how can I expect my child to.” If we are no longer teaching to the child, but to the test than what do we expect will happen. Pressure to “do well” academically becomes priority number one whether the understanding is there or not.

However, I have noticed something that wasn’t as prevalent back when I was growing up. There is a sense of entitlement in children these days. A lot of the time it stems from giving your child everything they want or ask for, which than feeds their sense of entitlement and their feelings of gratitude fall by the wayside. As a parent you DO NOT have to meet the endless demands of your children. A child’s happiness does not have to be insured at all hours of the day. It’s not healthy for you and certainly not for them. When you as a parent shelter your children from adversity it makes it harder for them to make decisions, learn from their mistakes, and thrive during life’s ups and downs. I know that it’s done because you love your children, however, it results in children always expecting to get what they want, when they want it. When they grow into adults and they’ve gone ten rounds with the real world and still haven’t obtained what they wanted, they won’t understand why. I wasn’t raised to believe that whatever I asked for I would get. For Christmas my mother would tell me to make a list and I would list anything I could possibly think of. Most of the times that resulted in about 50 items on my list. When Christmas eventually came around, I may have gotten only eight items on my list, and on most occasions it was the items my parents could afford. They would never stretch their pockets to get me something that was out of their price range. Each time I attempted to throw a fit my mother would firmly say “well I guess you don’t want it. I’ll just have to take it back”. The only time I tested her was her very first threat of returning my gift. When she proved that she would, I shut up any time after that. I learned that my parents didn’t have to get me anything. They willingly did because they loved me, but they didn’t owe me. They taught me the importance of a dollar and saving and that I was lucky for the things I got. That didn’t mean they didn’t make me work for them. Looking back on it now, a lot of what I was given was in direct response to my behavior. If I was well-mannered, respectful, responsible, and helpful around the house I was rewarded in some way.

I also think disciplining a child has changed quite a bit. A “time out” would have never worked for me. I was one of those children that didn’t mind solitude so putting me in a corner as a punishment, wasn’t a punishment. When I was younger if I did something that put me in danger I was spanked. I have no psychological scars from it because I wasn’t “beaten” as some would see it. Today when you tell someone you spank your child there’s this automatic picture of a child being abused. There’s a difference between disciplining your child with a spanking and beating your child. They ARE NOT the same thing and people need to stop putting them in the same category. I was not abused by my parents. I would get spanked and most of the times it would be five hits and that would be the end of it. I wasn’t spanked every day, or spanked for no reason at all, and it was never any type of pain that a beating would give. I wasn’t always disciplined through spanking either. My parents used other methods and most of the time my discipline would also fit the crime. If I abused television privileges I would get no tv. If I didn’t come in from outside when called I wasn’t allowed outside to play. My mother had alternating chores for us. There were times where I would skip the chore I disliked the most. If she found out, that was the chore I got for a month. But the thing is I could correlate my punishment with my offense. It made sense. Nowadays the punishments don’t fit the crime. Children can’t make the connection between what they did wrong and their punishment. For example, say the normal routine is that your child wakes up for school on time and you drive them to school. Let’s say one day they wake up late. Instead of making the child ride the bus, which would be a punishment that correlates with the offense. If you wake up late you ride the bus. Parents today normally scold their child, tell them to hurry up, and still drive them to school. John Becker, a marriage and family therapist, has said “the purpose of disciplining your child is to instruct them. Taking away something as a punishment for misbehavior doesn’t always achieve that”. His example in the adult world would be “If I’m late for work, I lose my job. If I’m late for work, it’s not that I don’t get my lunch. I think consequences work best when they’re logically connected”.

Children are also not as active anymore. When I say active I mean playing outside of the home. When I was younger I was in the backyard jumping on the trampoline, playing volleyball with my neighbor, roller skating with my brother, playing tag with my friends, walking on stilts (yes I had a pair and I was fabulous at it), and enjoying the outside world. Today most kids are in front of either the television watching shows or gaming. They have no idea what it’s like to play hide and seek through three neighbors backyards or be told “you better be in the house before the streetlights come on”. I don’t fault the children for this. Most parents I have talked to have made the statement about how they don’t think its safe for their children to be outside, even in their own driveway. I feel like this statement in some ways is a cop-out. It isn’t that it’s not safe. I think it comes down to that you as the parent don’t want to have to sit outside to watch your child. There is always something else to be done that you don’t have the time to take away from. It’s another societal issue. In this day and age parents and individuals alike are always on the go. No one takes the time to just enjoy the moment anymore. Something that is deemed important by societal standards, really isn’t. I remember my mother would sit on the front or back porch with a book and read until we were done playing. If I wanted to walk the dog she would go with me. She would make a point to stop what she was doing to let us enjoy being kids. And for the most part she would enjoy it with us. I have inherited that from her. The last time I had my nephew for the day we went to Hoover Dam and walked the stairs. When he was younger we’d take walks around the neighborhood and if he wanted to play outside I was outside with him. If he’s over at my place we take trips to the park. I don’t allow him to watch television with me or play video games. Surprisingly he doesn’t miss it. As a child he really just wants something that stimulates him.

The biggest problem I’ve seen, however, is this very strange notion of being your child’s “friend”. You aren’t their friend. You are their parent. Plain and simple. They don’t need you for a friend. That’s what their neighbors, school mates, and sports mates are for. Your purpose is to raise a child that will develop into an upstanding adult. Someone with a moral compass, good manners, and responsible. Your purpose is not to “hang”, “gossip”, or “be besties” with them. When you play the part of your child’s friend it shifts the power dynamic. Why would they need to listen to you? Why would they need to respect you? I remember being a child and how my friends and I joked around and talked with each other. It wasn’t always respectful and I always saw us as equals. As a parent you ARE NOT your child’s equal. They should respect you and listen to you and as a “friend” they don’t have to. It’s normal growing pains if your child doesn’t like or get along with you at some point in their lives. It would actually be abnormal if that wasn’t the case. You are there to protect THEIR best interests and as much as they want to believe they know what their best interests are, they don’t. I remember how often my mother and I fought and how I always thought she was unfair. I can’t tell you how many times I screamed “I HATE YOU!” to her face during heated arguments, but I was never as disrespectful to my mother as I see children these days are. I didn’t call her every other name in the book. I definitely never put my hands on her. As for my father there was nothing, but the utmost respect. I knew that in our household my parents were the authority and you respected and did as you were told when it came to them. No questions asked. Were there moments of rebellion. Of course there was. It’s called my teenage years, but with those moments of rebellion came the firm discipline that was also necessary. I had a discussion with my mother when I turned 25 and we were out having drinks for the first time. She said something to me that still sticks with me to this day. She said, “even in those moments when I felt like the worst parent in the world because there was tension between us and you wouldn’t even look at me I had to remember that I was your parent. There would be time later when you were an adult to be your friend, but I couldn’t be your friend then. Because you may not have even made it to adulthood if I had.” Those are probably the truest words I had ever heard, and the funniest part was, she was completely right (which I don’t think I’ve ever told her). I NEEDED her to be my parent because back then I didn’t know as much as I thought I did and the things I did know may have never pushed me to become the adult I am today. She held me accountable when I never held myself.

But I think a major culprit in parenting these days is the advancement of technology. In the span of two decades I have watched video games go from Nintendo and Duck Hunt gun controllers to Xbox and Kinect. Computers have gone from desktops that were utilized mainly for homework or the game “snake” (back in the DOS days); to laptops, tablets, and cellphones that can now surf the web, make video calls, and watch movies. My generation knew the house phone, the flip phone, and now the smart phone. Pictures were taken with disposable cameras that you looked through a tiny lens to shoot and the film had to be developed. Now there is the digital camera that has a front and back facing camera, a LCD screen, can video record, and you yourself can print the picture. We used VCR’s to record shows, DVD players to watch movies, and now there is DVR to record and watch shows and movies. Music came on cassettes, then CD’s, then mp3’s, and now simply to our cell phones. Our televisions went from the box tubes, to flat screens, to smart TV’s that you can not only watch television on, but also connect to the internet.

I have watched as we went from a culture of people who would pick up the phone to speak to someone, to people who now text. We used to communicate with others in another state or country by writing a letter, but now we Facetime or Skype. Our once private lives that were cherished in their simplicity have become public to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, and Keek. Sadly our society has become more connected and even more disconnected at the same time. No one takes the time to just enjoy each others company any longer. If people are out you can look around at anyone and find someone on their phone scrolling through social media. The iPad has become the new babysitter. Hand your child one at dinner and you don’t actually have to converse with them. Give them one at home so you can keep them distracted while you take care of other things. Two decades of changes have affected the way we interact not only with our parents, our peers, but with children as well. The problem with that is children are no longer learning from parents. They are learning from the posts presented on Facebook, the answers they get back from Google, and the behavior we display as adults on all social media sites. They have learned that violence isn’t wrong. Video games have de-sensitized them to it. A child can now pick up a gun (controller) and shoot someone else without a sense of it being morally wrong. However, if parents continue to let the internet and video games raise their children how will a child know right from wrong? In most instances its trial and error. What if the error were shooting another person in real life? Oscar Wilde once said “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.

Now before I get the very angry comments. Please do not look at this as an attack on you as a parent. I am in no way generalizing all parents as falling into the parenting categories I have listed. I understand how difficult parenting is. It’s the most difficult job anyone can ever have. I feel the pressure when I’m spending time or babysitting my nephew and I am able to return him to his parents. I don’t have to worry about what I teach, say, do around him 24/7. I have met some amazing parents who are raising well-mannered and responsible children. But the common link between those parents I have found is that they at least listen to those around them who give suggestions. They may not take all of the suggestions, but they listen with an open perspective and aren’t on the defensive. They take into account how their parents were raised, how they themselves were raised, and how those without children were raised. They apply different tactics from discussions they’ve had to see which one works best for their child.  They’re not afraid to ask for help when something just isn’t working. As the saying goes “it takes a village.” But as I stated in my prior post about double standards, you should parent to each child’s need. I still firmly believe that, but what I’m suggesting now is that as a parent you take the kid gloves off.  Children need structure, consistency, discipline, instruction, time and attention. They don’t need to be “asked”. They don’t need to be over-indulged. They certainly don’t need to be ignored. The world won’t sugar coat anything for them. It won’t fight fair and it won’t care what harm it does. Children need to be prepared for the good and the bad that life has to offer. They won’t always have you to come back to.

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