A crisis of parenting: What's really going wrong with our kids in 2019.

Helicopter, Free-range, Mollycoddle, Lawnmower….

The parenting styles experienced by Generation Z (our current crop of teenagers) all share a common thread – a lean towards over-parenting.

To unpack why we’ve pushed parenting so far in this direction, a peek back at history paints a pretty clear picture.

The 18th century is when the way parents parent changed.

“We went from a largely agricultural society to an industrial one. There started to be communal education of kids, so rather than being taught at home by their parents, children were a community asset,” author of Soft Teens David Gillespie told The Quicky.

Listen to the full chat with David Gillespie on The Quicky. Post continues after podcast.

“They had to learn certain capabilities like learning to read and write, so they’d be able to be useful in factories,” he continued.

The community started to care about the way children were being raised, and so began a trend of theorising about how best to do it.

Then came the 1920s, which saw the advent of the first parenting books.

As Mr Gillespie explained to Quicky host Claire Murphy, there was a child psychologist called J.B Watson who was making waves at the time.

“He used to experiment on a little boy called Albert. He taught Albert to fear things he shouldn’t –  bunnies, feather dusters…he was trying to see if you could condition fear into children.” said Mr Gillespie.

He could. He did. Little Albert grew up into an adult that was still conditioned to fear those very things.


“It was obviously a dreadful set of experiments,” added Mr Gillespie.

But Mr Watson’s philosophies were followed very closely, and as a result this generation of parents took a very hard-line approach with their kids.

“Never hug or kiss them. Never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning,” a passage from the book reads.

This parenting style continued on through the 30s and 40s, until a new parenting book ‘Baby and Childcare’ by Dr Spock started to shift opinions in 1946.

“It’s still the biggest selling parenting book ever made,” points out Mr Gillespie.

Dr Spock’s approach was a softener to Watsons. He advised parents to show love, affection and kindness to their children.

“In comparison to today, he was still pretty hard-line. He wasn’t saying ‘it’s a free for all to kids’. It was still about boundaries, and rules – he believed in spanking – but also in showing love. It wasn’t crazy lucy goosey,” said Mr Gillespie.

In the 70s there was rebellion against this approach, with some blaming the free living hippy lifestyles of the 60s on Dr Spock’s parenting influence.

“Parenting advice splintered in the 70s, but there was a dominant theme – being increasingly more child centric,” said Mr Gillespie.

Labour in the household had been gradually decreasing thanks to inventions like washing machines and dishwashers and there was an increasing shift towards both parents working, not just the father.


MM Confessions: The time I was a bad mum. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

“The culmination means we have a generation raised by children where the focus has been on maximising the quality time they do get with their kids,” said Mr Gillespie.

During the 70s and 80s, there was still a more hands off approach that created a generation of ‘latch key’ kids. Unsupervised play was also still a thing – children of this era remember being told of an evening ‘be home when the street lights come on.’

But over the years, parents have been gradually shifting more and more in the direction of over-parenting.

If we skip through a few generations we end up on Z, aka, today’s teens. A generation that’s been raised in a world where no one has ever said no to them. It’s just been a natural evolution from one extreme in the 1920s, to the other, a century later.

“It’s difficult for them to encounter anywhere where someone says no. We’ve overlaid on that since 2010 – electronic pacifiers. A way to keep a child calm and quiet when a parent needs to focus on their work or something else,” explained Mr Gillespie.

“The result is a generation exposed to highly addictive software every day all day and parents who can’t say no. It’s a recipe for disaster,” he added.


Clinical psychologist and author of  The Bonsai Child Dr Judith Locke agrees, telling The Quicky it’s a generation of “soft teenagers.”

Often parents have created such a perfect childhood for their children, and said child has grown up happy and successful 100 per cent of the time.

“A lot of making sure they remember their homework, their homework is done perfectly, when they drop the ice-cream another one is bought for them. Things like that.

“What occurs over time, is it doesn’t create skills in the child like resilience and self regulation. It makes them weaker and more dependent on parent efforts to make them happy, not their own efforts,” explained Dr Locke.

Dr Locke says parents need to let their children cope with their environment when things go wrong. When their best friend isn’t in their class – don’t call the school and move said kid, let them feel ‘challenge.’

When they forget to pack their lunch, don’t rush to the school gates. Let them learn ‘resourcefulness’, be that asking a friend, a teacher or getting the canteen to give them an IOU. “It’s not about you solving it all the time,” said Dr Locke.

“Trees need wind. Without it, trees don’t grow stronger and put down deeper roots. Likewise, kids need to face more challenge,” she explained.

“Overtime we’ve started to protect kids a lot more.

“Step back, so they step up,” concluded Dr Locke.

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