When did it all begin? When did parents stop parenting? When did it become more important to be your child’s cool friend than to be his guide, his mentor, his beacon through the fog of these formative years?
Beginning with parents born in the period of the Depression – 1929 to 1940 or so – things began to change. Following the end of World War II and the Korean Conflict, America became much more child centered, committed to providing for the next generation all of the benefits that Mom and Dad were denied. Babies born from the late ’40s and thereafter – the Boomers, products of the exuberance of post-War optimism – were a new breed of American, freed from the child labors of their parents’ generation, free to become focused on a life of material excess.
Increased leisure time and material comforts brought greater awareness of the inequities of American culture – the growing gap between the “Haves” and the “Have-nots.” (In the grinding years of the Great Depression, it was hard to tell the poor from the not-so-poor; everyone was suffering to a greater or lesser extent.) In time, the Civil Rights Movement gained traction, and new groups began to seek and achieve greater empowerment – including children. Post-War families would become smaller; advances in medicine now rendered unnecessarily large families obsolete and too expensive. (Just thirty years earlier, rural American families still needed home-grown farm labor and knew that some of their brood would die in infancy or early childhood. No Penicillin. The chores needed to be done.)
Fewer children per family in post-War America made each one more precious, more the object of excess attention: our first generation of brats. Children had rights, too. Empowerment. I want this. I won’t do that. You can’t make me!
The indulged Baby Boomer generation went on to build its own families, children produced by children of surplus. More indulgence. Fewer demands. Lines of authority increasingly obscure. In a word, the death of traditional parenting. The deferential parent. Some would suggest that most societal corrections tend to swing too far, as they strive to remedy past ills. Maybe children really do need parenting. It is even possible that many children do not actually have the maturity to make autonomous decisions that reflect their best interests for the long-term future. Perhaps, in spite of occasional protests, children really do crave guidance in their lives.
The path forward for the next generation will be considerably brighter if today’s parents seize the reins in time. Some children, of course, have little chance of finding the path at all. But the overwhelming population of children who come from caring families can have the potential for greatness, if blind deference to the opinions of the uninformed is replaced by real parenting.
CARTER P. REESE
Director, Informed Educational Solutions