Kids these days! Barely a day goes by without somebody complaining about the behaviour of children or youth – and of course proclaiming that the problem is due to an overly permissive parenting style. The usual criticism against kids these days goes something like this:
“The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything.”Of course, many complaints about kids’ behaviour aren’t worded nearly that politely. And most of them come from people who are still living – often people who are in their 20s or 30s.
Yes, you heard right: the above quote is far from a contemporary one. This critic of the behaviour of young people was Peter the Hermit, a priest at Amiens during the First Crusade. He lived about a thousand years ago. And his quote is just one that shows us adults have long criticized young people for their attitudes and the way they behave.
Historical Complaints About ‘Kids These Days’Just to show you the hermit was not the only historical figure to despair of ever finding a well-behaved young person, here’s an example from the 17th century:
Youth were never more sawcie, yea never more savagely saucie . . . the ancient are scorned, the honourable are contemned, the magistrate is not dreaded.And there are literally dozens of similar quotes about kids these days - from recent years and the 20th century, yes. But also from the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, and reaching back to the days of Plato, Socrates, Horace and even Hesiod, who lived close to 3,000 years ago!
Is Authoritarian Parenting Better?Most times when people complain about how kids these days behave, the parents are blamed for being too permissive. The speaker will inevitably reminisce about how strict his own parents were in raising him, and how the focus on rules and punishment taught him right from wrong. He’ll say that parents today aren’t authoritarian enough, that we’re sparing the proverbial rod and it’s been spoiling our children. He’ll advocate a return to stricter rules and more stern parenting styles, if not actually coming right out to say that spanking is the only way to keep kids in line and besides, he was beaten by his parents and he “turned out just fine.”
But is that kind of rigidity actually helpful? Do kids today just need a good swat on the behind in order to set them straight and have them behaving like perfect little angels? Well, the research says no. Studies show that children of authoritative parents are just as well-behaved as children whose parents are more strict and less responsive.
Permissive Parenting Gives Surprising ResultsChildren of authoritarian parents also tend to lag behind other kids in terms of many things – from academic performance and self-esteem to resourcefulness and problem-solving skills. Authoritarian parenting, it seems, results in children who lack social skills, emotional maturity, reasoning, and the ability to make moral choices for themselves. Further – and this is an important one for parents who insist their rigidity is “for the child’s own good” – permissive parenting is at least as effective when it comes to helping kids these days avoid substance abuse problems and this highly responsive parenting style that places few or no demands on children is actually superior to authoritarian parenting in several ways.
So do parents today just need to go back to the basics with their kids? Yes, if by basics we mean striving for a balance between the demands we place on our kids and the warmth and responsiveness we show them. Just like kids in the 1960s when these parenting styles were first identified – and 100, 1,000 or even 3,000 years ago – kids these days need to feel loved and listened to. They need to feel there are real reasons for their parents’ rules. And they need to know that Mom and Dad make decisions based on their well-being, rather than for an arbitrary reason or because it’s just easier that way.
Kids these days are no more unruly than kids in Hesiod’s day. And parents are just as hard-pressed to deal with our kids’ behaviour and to help them grow into responsible adults, as were parents millennia before we were born.
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Original text and images © 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne