3 Big Ways Millennial Parents Are Raising Their Children Differently

A poll found that 73% of millennials feel they are doing a better job than their own parents did.

No one goes into parenting planning to mess up their kid. We all love our children and have the best of intentions when it comes to raising them. But the criteria used for determining whether someone is parenting well shifts from one generation to the next, as well as between cultures.

Millennial parents, generally considered those who are currently 28-43 years old, tend toward a parenting style that draws on the past but is uniquely their own. Their ideas about what good parenting looks like, their attitudes about mental health and their access to information are all very different from those of generations past.

A poll of 1,000 millennial parents conducted by Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago found that 88% feel that their parenting style is different from the way they were raised, and 73% believe they are doing a better job than their own parents did.

Part of this can be attributed to our human tendency to think that newer is better, and the ideas that are currently popular are superior to those of the past. Another factor to consider is that it’s only relatively recently — and in limited parts of the world — that parents have the luxury of weighing their parenting styles and the impact these may have on their children. In previous generations, and in other parts of the world (as well as in the lower economic strata of our own society), the focus was on survival. You don’t have time to consider how to help your kids thrive when their access to food or shelter is uncertain.

“For my grandparents, who were Depression babies, their focus was strongly on earning enough money to literally keep everyone fed and clothed and housed,” Kristene Geering, a parenting coach in California, told HuffPost. She continued, “For some millennial parents, those things are taken care of, which means they can move up Maslow’s Hierarchy and start thinking about things like their child’s emotional well-being.”

For those millennial parents who do have the opportunity to reflect on the way that they were parented and the way they want to raise their kids, here are some of the things that sets their generation apart.

A majority identify with a gentle parenting style.

Seventy-four percent of parents in the poll said they practice gentle parenting.

You’ve probably seen this term making the rounds in the news and on social media. There is no clear consensus about what this parenting approach does (and doesn’t) entail, but, in general, it involves an acknowledgement of children’s experiences and feelings.

Miller Shivers, a pediatric psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, told HuffPost that gentle parenting “is not a psychological term or one that is recognized in any official capacity.”

“What it has come to mean is parenting with intention, trying to be mindful and
understand the core of your child’s behaviors so that can inform your reaction as a parent,” she continued.

Gentle parenting is about avoiding harsh disciplinary tactics, such as spanking or yelling reprimands — and this is where things can get sticky. Observers (particularly grandparents) may believe that without the yelling (or some other harsh consequence), parents’ discipline has no teeth. On the other end of the spectrum, parents may believe that any enforcing of boundaries with kids isn’t gentle.

Geering and Shivers say that both of these views reflect misunderstandings.

“It often leads parents to feel that they can’t set limits or have rules. The
best parents can have a ‘gentle’ approach but still provide structure, limits and rules for their children,” Shivers said. While the two are often confused, gentle parenting is not permissive parenting, a style that involves parents letting kids do whatever they want.

However, some parents end up there because gentle parenting doesn’t offer all the answers. “Gentle parenting discusses how to approach issues with your children and try to determine why a behavior is occurring, but it doesn’t tell you what to do to improve situations. Parents often feel that the observation and empathic statements to their child is what is supposed to change the behavior, but oftentimes it is not enough,” Shivers said.

An example of a (low-stakes) situation would be when you’re trying to talk on the phone but your child is continually interrupting you to get your attention. A gentle parenting response might be, “I know you have something you really want to tell me.” This acknowledges why the child is interrupting you and what they are feeling. But in terms of resolving the issue? That part you need to come up with on your own. (One possibility would be setting a timer for 10 minutes and telling them when the timer goes off you will be done with your phone call and ready to listen to them. The permissive reaction would be to cede to their demand and hang up the phone.)

“One of the things I often say to parents is that you can hold a boundary and not be a jerk,” Geering said.

For millennials, part of the draw of gentle parenting is their desire to do differently, and better, than their own parents.

“As we discover more and more just how critical attachment is and why safe and loving environments are so important, those of us who were raised under older standards (think of phrases like, ‘children should be seen and not heard,’ or, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’) feel a bit wistful and wish we’d have had that kind of environment growing up,” Geering said.

Millennial parents have more information than any previous generation, and there are pros and cons to that.

We know more now about the human mind and how it develops during childhood, and how those childhood interactions and experiences impact who we become as adults. This psychological understanding is relatively recent. It wasn’t common knowledge in generations past.

“We’ve learned an incredible amount about parenting in the last 40 years or so — even the word ‘parenting’ wasn’t used very often until the 70s,” Geering noted.

Millennial parents have easy access to all this knowledge, but that access doesn’t come without a price. “On the positive side, they literally have all of the information in the world at their fingertips, in their pockets or purses, all the time. How amazing is that? On the negative side ... the pressure to be ‘perfect’ (whatever that even means) is real and very toxic,” Geering said.

A lot of the information millennials get comes through social media, and there are some real downsides to that exchange. First, there is the compulsion to compare ourselves to others — inevitably finding that we come up short.

In the poll, 85% of millennial parents said that they believe social media creates unrealistic parenting expectations, and 63% said they believe they are too hard on themselves as parents.

“They have pressures that were unheard of until their generation started parenting when it comes to technology and social media,” Geering said. It’s difficult to explore the nuance of a parenting move in a brief video on social media, and it’s easy for parents to conclude that an influencer is doing a better job than they are. These comparisons can lead to stress and anxiety.

Second, not every so-called expert on social media is a reliable source of information — about parenting, or any other topic.

“Influencers are not necessarily experts in the field,” Geering said, adding, “most of those who are will tell you upfront that there’s no magic button.”

In more extreme cases, influencers have been found guilty of spreading misinformation and causing harm.

The poll found that 23% of millennial parents say they have gotten parenting advice from a social media influencer, and that 1 in 4 haven’t double-checked such advice.

Millennial parents are more open about mental health.

Millennial parents have more exposure to psychology and child development, and tend to be more comfortable in talking about mental health — both their own and that of their children.

“Millennial parents are more aware of mental health than past generations, are more open to discussing it and seeking help for concerns when needed,” said Shivers.

Geering noted that a lot of the stigma around mental health issues has faded. Topics that would have gone unspoken in previous generations are now openly discussed.

In terms of their kids’ mental health, millennial parents, with their gentle approach, tend to be thoughtful. “I think millennial parents in particular are (overall) really good at working with their kids on their feelings,” Geering said.

“The research that has come out about helping kids understand and label their emotions, and how that can help them regulate ... has started filtering through and parents have seen how helpful that can be.”

The poll found that 80% of parents believe that conversations about mental health and emotional well-being are very important in shaping a child’s overall development. Forty-seven percent said they have a child with anxiety, and 12% have a child currently in therapy.

While there is less stigma surrounding mental health conditions, Geering isn’t always sure parents give themselves everything they need.

“I see moms in particular sacrifice their own mental health in order to meet the expectations they feel others have of them, Geering said.

“What I see with this generation is they give and give and give to their kids ... and they wear themselves down. The real tragedy is that when a parent gets worn down like that, it impacts their kid’s mental health, too. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your kid! But that part of the message doesn’t seem to have filtered through.”

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