Parenting in the new millennium

African American family together outside their home

While there is no right or wrong way to raise children, when it comes to tradition, there are some decisions that parents in the new millennium are finding they must do differently. Whether it’s evolving views on discipline or balancing unique challenges, many parents today are departing from the normal family structure to adopt a different style in raising children.
“Parenting styles evolve over time and can change to meet the children’s needs, well-being and sometimes their demands,” said Laura Baldwin, a family and child therapist. “While at times there is the need to be stern with children, there are also occasions when parents can loosen the reins and adopt a more permissive approach.
“Parents today may subscribe to a particular style, but many tend to use an approach that provides more encouragement and can improve the children’s capabilities to achieve greater success. A balanced parenting approach produces the best outcome for children to do well in life.”
The different approach reflects the different cultures and backgrounds of millennial children, Baldwin said. Understanding the changing dynamics is important so parents can stay current with the latest methods because each one affects home life differently.
TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK
One of the biggest debates in parenting comes from the question of to spank or not. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently hardened its stance against spanking children as a form of parental discipline.
The group recommends that adults caring for children use “healthy forms of discipline” –such as positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits and setting expectations –and not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating or shaming.
Stacey Patton, author of “Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America,” saud the deeply embedded practice of corporal punishment for Black children can be traced to European parenting styles that were eventually passed on to Black American slaves.
Ultimately, she advocates against hitting children in any way, as well as the embrace of such parenting tools within Black culture.
“People start hitting their children at toddler [age] before they start walking or talking, so the child is beginning to normalize that pain before they’re able to develop verbal and cognitive skills. When you hit children when their brains are still developing, particularly in that 0-to-3 age range…you’re rewiring the child’s brain to avoid pain,” Patton said.
Patton said Black parents have to find a way to reach their children without hitting them.
“Hitting between adults is illegal. A man hitting his wife or his girlfriend is called domestic violence. If we hit animals it’s called animal cruelty. But kids are the only group of people in this country where it is codified in law to assault their bodies,” she said.
For those who argue that they were spanked as a child yet “turned out fine,” Patton said we should change the mindset that any abuse is okay.
“I’ve talked to people who say I was spanked as a kid or whupped, and it wasn’t abuse, but then when you ask them, how was your body hit, they’ll say they were slapped in the face, that a parent used a belt, or a switch,” she said.
“Our entire ecosystem is full of this negative imagery, negative stereotypes and predictions about Black children. We were always a problem described by the larger white world, and our parents internalized those messages, and you could see them come out in the way they parented us from a place of fear.
“And so the beatings were designed as some kind of [preventative measure] to save us from going to prison, for example. But if beating Black children were so successful in keeping us out of prison, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about mass incarceration and police brutality.”
While 80 percent of Black parents see spanking as reasonable and effective ways to teach respect and protect their children from the streets, incarceration, and encounters with racism, some are actually setting aside the belt to search for healthier, nonviolent alternatives.
Single father Sean Hines Sr. said he stopped spanking his two children because he felt he could get the same or better results with a nonviolent approach.
“Giving up spanking wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be,” he said. “It was just a matter of breaking that reflex response, taking time to view the entire situation and decide on a suitable course of action.”
Once Hines stopped spanking, he found that his children were “easier to talk to, less afraid. That made it easier for me to educate them. They became more forthcoming with the truth.”
Instead of hitting, he administers discipline according to the violation. “Taking away their gaming devices and TV time seems to be more painful for them than a belt.”
But mother-of-three Chandra Cole echoes the sentiment of many Black parents.
“The AAP didn’t raise me or my kids,” Cole said. “I grew up in the South. If there was one thing I feared, it was the switch. The result? I’ve never smoked or took a drug in my life, I respect the law and elders and I’ve raised my kids to do the same,” she said.
Baldwin said that parents must find what works, but be open to changing to fit the times.
“I have parents say, ‘If they arrest me for putting bruises on my kid, so be it,’ but do you really want to be embroiled in court, put your job at risk, when you could find another, just as effective way to discipline?”
UNIQUE CHALLENGES
Discipline isn’t the only changing challenge. Parents today need to become better listeners so they can engage in meaningful conversations with their children. The era when parents didn’t worry about their child’s feelings is no more.
“Many of us grew up where we were told to stay in a child’s place, where as long as we were being provided food and shelter, our feelings were not taken into account,” Baldwin said. “Kids today want to be heard. And during those conversations, parents must listen with empathy but not be afraid to speak clearly about the principles that never change such as respect, teamwork, courage, and honor.”
In addition, today’s parent must work to achieve balance in their family life in order to raise well-rounded children.
“We are so busy that sometimes we forget that we have a life,” said Lucy MacDonald, a consultant who advocates looking at your life as a whole, deciding what your priorities are and focusing time and attention on the things most important to you.
“Lower the housework standards,” she suggested, pointing out that kids don’t notice how clean the house is, but do notice how much time you spend with them. “Our children know we spend time on what’s important to us.”
Today’s parent also faces the challenge of constant connection to their devices. Their reliance on technology may have its benefits in improving parenting, getting things done quickly, and interacting or bonding with their family and friends.
“As opposed to the traditional wooden blocks or writing out numbers, young kids are learning to type and navigate apps,” Baldwin said. “Since technology will be a constant in their lives, embrace it by teaching children early.”