Today’s adults are the product of modern parenting

There’s a great episode of South Park where Cartman’s mother gets so fed up with her son’s unruly behaviour she enlists the help of a “dog whisperer”. He basically trains Cartman as he would a dog, zapping him every time he steps or says something out of line. Within a short time Cartman is a perfect little gentleman. However – and this is IMO the real genius of the episode – Cartman’s mother doesn’t like it, because she no longer has anyone to fuss over and dote on: her son is now independent of her. She then undoes all the dog whisperer’s work because her sole reason to exist is leaping in the air whenever her spoiled brat son says “jump”. Without this, she is lost and lonely. Matt Parker and Trey Stone have got modern parenting nailed to a T.

I don’t have kids and no longer get asked why, but back when I did I would flip the question around: why do you have kids? You’d be surprised by how many of the answers were effectively to fill a void in the mother’s life. Quite a few would talk about receiving “unconditional love”, and after a while I’d reply that you can get that from a dog. I was only half joking: if you need unconditional love then you are perhaps better off getting a pet than having a child.

I’ve spent the past decade or so observing my friends and colleagues starting families and raising kids, plus I trawl through online forums such as Mumsnet occasionally, and I try to compare it to my own childhood. The difference is vast. Now I don’t think our household in the 1980s was typical, my parents were old-fashioned and our upbringing was probably more in line with the 1950s or ’60s, and perhaps if I’d seen a more typical childhood my views would be a little different now.

Probably the biggest difference between then and now is that in a lot of modern families the kids run the household. This is by no means universal, but in a lot of cases the kids say something, shout out, or demand something and both adults stop whatever they’re doing to appease the child. This happens every few minutes, hour after hour, day after day. The kids have the adults wrapped around their fingers, and are clearly the ones in charge. A power play has taken place, wills have been tested, and the parents have been found wanting.

I’m fairly sure it wasn’t like this a couple of generations ago. I seem to remember when growing up there were “kids space” and “adult space” and I’m not just talking about physical space. There were conversations between adults that kids knew they were not allowed to intervene in, activities they ought to stay away from, and things they mustn’t touch. Sure, the kids would test these boundaries but they were rigorously enforced, leading to a separation of adult and children’s spheres. If the radio was on and my parents were listening we generally knew not to come in an make a racket. If we did, we’d get a bollocking, not be indulged. Nowadays there is no adults’ world and children’s world: everything is the children’s world, up to and including what is to be watched on TV.

A lot of modern parents seem unwilling or unable to set boundaries, which involves disciplining the kids. I have seen some do this well, some do it half-well, and some just let the kids do as they please. When it comes to disciplining kids, a lot of mothers I see simply can’t do it. They can’t bear to see their kid upset so they don’t maintain the boundary. A typical example is two adults speaking about something important and the kid comes running up:


Mummy’s response is: “Listen Toby, we’ve told you not to interrupt when adults are talking. Of course you can play with your Lego, darling! But don’t make a mess!”

Then Toby responds in an excruciatingly whiny voice: “But I can’t find it! I don’t know where it iiiiiiiissssss

A conversation then ensues about where Toby has put his Lego. By the time this is over, the other adult – if he’s me – has wandered off and poured himself a whisky. For all Mummy’s insistence that Toby shouldn’t interrupt adults, she is allowing him to do just that. Multiply this across a hundred different scenarios and Toby clearly has the run of the place.

What Mummy should have said is: “Listen Toby, we’ve told you not to interrupt when adults are talking. Go away!”

But then Toby would have cried and wailed and sniveled and Mummy’s heart would have broken and she’d have caved in, and I’d be off trying to find some whisky anyway. The problem is too many mothers – and an increasing number of fathers – want to be friends with their kids, and think their job is to smother them with love and affection and avoid all instances of them being upset. Their actions seem to be more about getting their kids’ approval and make themselves feel good instead of raising their children to be functioning adults.

It’s not about discipline per se, it’s more about consistency and resolve. I’m not saying parents should whip their kids, but if they’re going to tell them not to do something or give them a bollocking, it needs to be consistent and sustained. I was in a house some years back when a four year old boy hurled a framed photo to the floor. The adults made their shocked faces and said he was a naughty boy and sent him to stand in the corner. Within five minutes he was making faces at the same adults who were laughing with him and calling him cute. Within ten minutes he was eating a chocolate ice cream. What do you think the little brat learned from that episode, then? He should have been sent to his room for two hours minimum, permitted to scream his head off, and given the cold shoulder afterwards. But parents lack the resolve to do it.

One of the things I hear most often is darling Toby is “a fussy eater”. I am relatively certain that this is a modern phenomenon. I didn’t like some of my mother’s cooking but I was hungry so I ate it. I am sure the generations before me, and people in other countries, simply couldn’t give their kids choices. It is not unusual now for mothers to make separate meals for each child because “he just won’t eat it”. I’ve suggested not giving him anything else, and every mother says “Oh, I tried but he screamed and screamed and just wouldn’t eat it.” I bet this went on for all of twenty minutes before she caved in, whereas my mother would have kept me there until bedtime and then had another go with the same stuff the next day. As millions of children in poor households demonstrate every day, kids will eat anything if they’re hungry enough.

Kids refusing to eat are simply testing their parents’ will (unless they are genuinely ill). When a child pushes a plate of “strange” food away and says “I don’t want it!” he’s probably overfed. Guaranteed he’ll be eating chocolate before bedtime, and likely had a packet of crisps an hour previously. When I grew up the whole family ate together, sat at a table. When we’d finished we had to ask permission to leave the table and that was only granted if everything had been eaten. The table was the only place we were allowed to eat, and mealtimes the only occasion. Most households I walk into noadays has a kid walking around the house snacking on something, leaving a trail of detritus behind him.

Now this might all seem like unfair criticism, and I don’t mean it to be. If this is how parents want to raise their kids, good luck to them. I don’t have kids so it’s easy for me to sit and carp from the sidelines, and if I was raising a tribe perhaps I’d be equally guilty. But this is what I have observed, and it’s amazing how defensive people get when I simply describe what I’ve seen (and I fully expect to receive plenty of responses to this along the lines of “Oh but you don’t understand, with my Toby I really did try everything!”) But that isn’t the point of this post either.

Rather, it ties into my previous post about the modern generation being both unwilling to moderate their behaviour and unable to cope with the consequences, such that they demand to be protected from them. They can’t communicate, and nor are they prepared to compromise. They expect immediate delivery of even their most whimsical and petty desires, and the whole world ought to stop and fall over themselves to bring it about. The reaction of so many supposedly functioning adults to the Google Memo – the author of which has now been fired – is ample proof of a society whose young and even not-so-young adults have the mental strength and capacity of infant children. And have a look at this article:

Why Professional Cuddling Is Booming Under Trump

The reasons one seeks out a professional cuddling experience range from average adults seeking connection, those on the autistic spectrum, those healing from sexual trauma, adults dealing with sexual dysfunction or for older virgins to practice touch in a safe environment. The elephant in the room during some of these sessions, though, is the current state of the country’s affairs. Since November – and the election of Donald Trump – professional cuddling services have seen a spike in client interest.

These people are not functioning adults. Of course, every generation thinks the next one is soft and society going to the dogs, but the difference then was the next generation wasn’t wringing its hands and whining about how difficult life was. This isn’t the previous generation complaining about the next, it’s the current generation complaining about the world as they find it.

So whose fault is it? It’s tempting to blame technology, just the same as TV, rock ‘n’ roll, and video games were used to explain why previous generations opted for delinquency. This article seems to think the iPhone is to blame, but as I said in my previous post, I think that’s a symptom rather than a cause: kids are using the iPhone to help cope, rather than a handset making them useless.

I think the fault lies squarely with the changes in parenting. An early sign of this new approach was when parents started shouting at teachers for chastising their brats, rather than clipping the brat himself around the ear for making the teacher yell at him. With both parents now working, perhaps they feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids and so strive to make every moment “special”. Perhaps households being much wealthier has simply given them the luxury of being run by kids: the family would die if they tried this in a developing country.

Whatever the cause, I feel confident there is a link between children raised in such a way and the propensity of young adults to struggle to cope with the world and hanker for a patriarchal authority to regulate it such that they don’t have to. I’m not necessarily saying modern parenting is wrong, but if people are wondering why so many of today’s adults are rather wet, they might want to look at how they were brought up.

I’ll wrap this up with an anecdote. When I visited Lebanon in 2010 I attended a family party at my host’s house, a small affair so only about 60 people. The women sat at one side of the room and gossiped while drinking wine, the men sat on the other and gossiped while drinking Johnny Walker, and the children played on the floor. Young boys were permitted to join the men, and eat at the adults’ table, around the age of 14 or 15, and it was a big thing for them. They had to demonstrate the maturity to do so, and I saw them sat around with bum-fluff moustaches trying their hardest not to come across as infantile children. Their immaturity was obvious, but their parents and relatives set them expectations as to how to behave “now they were men” and they tried their best. Young boys looked forward to being accepted into the ranks of men, and strived for it.

I can’t help thinking any clash of civilisations will be won by those whose method of raising children produces the most successful adults. At this rate, the West is going to struggle.


60 thoughts on “Today’s adults are the product of modern parenting

  1. @Adam

    “Good God almighty.
    A man can no more discipline his children if he cannot first discipline his wife.”

    Hah- expected this at some point. There is an implicit assumption I know best all the time, about everything in your statement. I’m more than comfortable to admit that’s not the case. Also- whilst one should never make decisions in concert with kids, every marriage ever has had decisions made in concert with the other person involved.

    We just happen to disagree fairly strongly on aspects of child rearing.

    Which is OK, because she stays home and looks after them. But occasionally frustrating.

  2. Don’t know if someone else mentioned this but “Matt Parker and Trey Stone” is wrong. The names are mixed up. Unless there is a joke I’m not getting.

  3. In fact, any clash of civilizations (such as the one we’re experiencing right now) is more likely to be won by the side that actually has children, regardless how they are brought up. Have you checked out the birth rate of native Germans? Italians? British?

    The future belongs to those who show up, and guess what, it ain’t going to be “The West”.

  4. Never had children myself but notice that my friends who do are always there with their kids and base there whole lives round their kids and trying to entertain them. My parents let me get on with things myself – they wernt there to entertain me and as long as i turned up at mealtimes didn’t seem to be particularly bothered what i did during the day during holidays and weekends. Only food on offer was what we were given. However if i crossed a line set by them the punishment was harsh and quick. Certainly not moddycuddled at uni – late 70s -was expected to get on with it . In 3 years there only remembered asking for help once from uni staff and that was over an academic matter.

  5. An update:

    My wife was absent last night, leaving me with kids to feed, bathe and put to bed.
    Old fashioned parenting approach then took place.
    Kids in bed, on time and asleep happily.

    There’s sommat in this.

  6. Don’t know if someone else mentioned this but “Matt Parker and Trey Stone” is wrong. The names are mixed up.

    You’re absolutely right, it’s a mistake on my part. Thanks!

  7. they wernt there to entertain me

    And therein lies the major difference: a lot of modern kids expect their parents to entertain them, and the parents often oblige.

  8. This may be because we live in a conservative part of a very conservative state, namely Texas, but don’t think things around here have changed much from when I was growing up and we’re raising our sons the same way, i.e. parents are very much in control and set the rules and the behavior that is expected with discipline when it’s necessary and that includes spanking when we think it’s deserved, same as we got growing up. Also, the schools around here and that our boys go to are run along similar lines and have the option to use corporal punishment, a paddling, for school infractions and have few discipline problems.

  9. It seems to me that for modern “parents,” children are mere accessories among others which purport to demonstrate the parents’ success. That is, they view their children as they would an antique piece of furniture: something to be displayed and remarked upon by friends and acquaintances.

    But child rearing is difficult, if one does it correctly. And by “correctly,” I mean being able to say “no” more often than “yes.” The parents who are held hostabe by their children’s whims in the supermarket are probably those who wish to display their children at school plays or sporting events or music recitals, but who otherwise wish they’d simply disappear into the background of their own lives, while they pursue those things which make themselves feel “self-actualized.”

    The paradox is, with children your life ceases to be your own and becomes focused on them. Yet that focus cannot mean giving your children free rein and letting them call the shots. Molding decent human beings takes a lot of work and even when they’re gone, you worry about them and want to make sure they’re well-equipped to live in the modern world and properly rear the next generation. With kids, you cannot live like you did when you were twenty while trotting out your kids periodically for the accolades of society and then expect your kids to somehow magically turn into responsible adults. Kids aren’t stupid. They know when their existence is simply a means of validating their parents’ otherwise empty lives.

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