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Millennial Parenting: The Values Shaping The New Generation, by Pam MacIsaac

As with everything, there are trends in parenting. Practices that now seem misguided or cruel were once recommended by “experts” in the field, and, as parents, we’re subjected to a barrage of conflicting advice. It can be difficult and worrying to sort through it—after all, we only have one chance per child to get it right!

Millennials, Generation X and Boomers words on a speedometer to illustrate the different demographics and ages of generational groups

During my time as a parent and educator, I’ve seen a significant shift in parenting culture. The 80s and 90s, when my peers began to have children, is now seen as a period of unprecedented parental involvement in children’s lives. Unlike our own parents, who were inclined to be laissez-faire, allowing us to walk to pre-school unsupervised and play with lawn darts, we were encouraged to baby-proof our homes, schedule playdates, and worry over “stranger danger”. The anxiety was contagious. As a teacher and then vice-principal, I encountered parents who kept track of their child’s homework assignments, showed up at the school to clean their lockers, and worried about university admissions in the middle school.

In the early part of the new millennium, a different vocabulary emerged. We began to hear criticism of “helicopter parents” who “saved” their children from adversity or excessive challenge. Books such as Carl Honoré’s Slow Parenting or Wendy Mogel’s Blessings of a Skinned Knee, documentaries, websites and other media scolded us for over-parenting our children. The new culture of “free-range kids” and “slow parenting” had begun.

While it’s important take every parenting trend with a grain of salt, this particular movement has some useful core values that can help any of us be a better, if not a “slow”, parent.

  1. Your child’s accomplishments and failures are not your own. Good parenting requires some detachment and objectivity. Our kids are not extensions of ourselves.
  2. Adversity is an excellent teacher. Some of the deepest learning comes from mistakes. Recovering from setbacks teaches resiliency.
  3. Trust yourself and the other adults in your child’s life. Listen to your instincts. Assume that teachers, coaches, and other adults want the best for your child, until proven otherwise.
  4. Downtime is crucial. For true learning and growth, kids need to play and dream. A full slate of organized activities can leave little space for creativity and processing ideas.
  5. Most of us are not stars. It’s possible that we have the next Wayne Gretzky or Jane Goodall or Glenn Gould in our households. It’s more likely that we don’t—and that’s okay. The pressure to be special or the best can be a terrible burden for a kid.

Of course, in order for us all to back away from over-parenting, our societal institutions have to be aligned. Hyper-competitive sports leagues, excessive testing in schools, the pressures of university admissions, raised expectations in kindergarten and beyond, all of these things can make it seem impossible to relax with our kids. All revolutions start with the efforts of individuals, and this one is no different.


PMacIsaacHeadshotPam MacIsaac is a writer, teacher, enthusiastic amateur cook, mom, and lifelong pet owner. Her academic coaching practice, Think Academic Enrichment and Support (www.thinkae.org), offers literacy tutoring, enrichment classes, PA Day and March Break Creativity Camps, and other services for kids in midtown Toronto. She lives in the Arlington Village/Oakwood & Vaughan neighbourhood, and loves her local parks!  thinkacademicenrichment.org

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