What Was Wrong With My Parent’s Parenting?

FatherknowsbestDear Annie,

When I combine all of the pros and cons of 'old school' parenting and compare the results of how the adults turned out, I have to argue that the 'old school' way produced better overall human beings. Each generation of kid I see come through my office seems to behave worse than the last. I’m a results person. And I may not agree with the means to getting there, whether it be fear, shame or physical punishment, but I cannot argue with the results. I was, and kids were, more respectful, obedient listeners than they are today. Now I see a new crop of young adults who are disrespectful, spoiled, and feel entitled to the world even though they’ve contributed nothing to it. It seems to me that whatever parents are doing (or not doing) nowadays is producing a poor result.

Why did my parents never visit a behavior counselor to figure out how to parent? I feel like us parents today are made to feel so ignorant or inadequate that we need an owners’ manual or need to pay a person like yourself to instruct us on parenting. Why can we not just follow what our parents did? Who decided my parents were so bad? Especially when evidence shows my parents raised a good kid that turned out to be a good adult as well. Signed - Old School Dad

Dear Old School Dad,

Thank you so much for your insights, comments and questions. I think you make some very valid points about parenting and have some reasonable concerns about what is happening today. I am not sure I can address them all, but I do have some thoughts to offer.

First let me respond to your question: 

Why do parents come to someone like me to figure out how to parent?

Parents come to people like me because they are looking for support, a reality check, validation that they are doing a decent job, and ideas on how to respond to the unchartered challenges of parenting today. I also find that, while you were fortunate to have had an upbringing that worked for you, not all adults would say the same. Wanting to avoid what they consider missteps or damaging legacies from their own upbringing, they come looking for alternatives.

Now what about kids today? I hear ya! While there were certainly downsides to the 'old school' parenting styles - there was a strong insistence on manners and respectful talk to authorities. The only downside I see is that the method to getting such good results - for many parents - relied heavily on physical punishment, shame, embarrassing and demeaning consequences, belittling, abusiveness, guilt-tripping, and withdrawal of support and love. And while I agree that results are important, I am also concerned by the damage done by the methods.

I think that in trying to counter the downsides to 'old school' parenting, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

Just Right Parenting: So how to get it just right? Let's first talk about parenting styles. Generally, there are 4 styles that can be seen in parenting. They are: Permissive, Authoritative, Authoritarian, and Non-Involved.parenting_styles_4-1

These styles have varying combinations of 'responsiveness' (or regard for child) and 'demandingness' (or expectations of child). Some parents - especially those who had good models and good support for their parenting - balance these well. Authoritarian is TOO HARD, Permissive is TOO SOFT, while Authoritative is JUST RIGHT. (Click here for more indepth information - Baumrind, 1991).

Now I don't know you or your parents, but I suspect they found a decent balance and that is why you turned out the way you did.

Of course I can go on about the nuances of all of these parenting styles. Like the fact that Uninvolved parenting is still balanced! Just not a good idea. And the fact that it is more challenging to get respectful children without the use of strong punishments and shame - but again - the costs... I also see too many parents abdicating their parental power to their children - (and frankly I do want to ask - What are you doing?) and help them reclaim their power without creating power-crazy parents.

So these are some of my many thoughts. I am very grateful that you took the time to put your questions out there. I hope my responses are of some value.

Take care, Annie