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.