Author Katherine Reynolds Lewis has noticed modern kids are behaving differently and is convinced parental discipline should change to meet them.
Parenting tactics are slow to change. It’s not difficult to understand why. Many modern parents default to their parents’ antiquated approaches. That’s why discipline tactics like spanking persist despite clear evidence that they are (more than likely) bad for a kid’s mental health. Essentially, there’s a generational lag baked into child rearing that results in old parenting methods being used on modern kids.
That’s a problem, according to author Katherine Reynolds Lewis. As she observes in her new book The Good News About Bad Behavior, the tension between old ideas about parenting and the modern experience of childhood has led to chaos, confusion, and bad feelings between parents and kids. Where some see a glut of bad behavior due to a permissive culture or technological excess, Lewis sees kids struggling to meet expectations without being given the skills they need to avoid punishment — and, more pressingly, thrive.
Lewis spoke to Fatherly about the slow progress of parenting tactics and how she feels discipline should change to meet contemporary kids where they are.
What has changed about modern childhood? Is it their brains or the changing environment we’re expecting them to interact with?
I think it’s maybe a little of both. There are three big factors. Childhood play has really disappeared. Kids aren’t playing outdoors. They aren’t playing in lightly supervised groups. Also the growth of mass media, social media and technology is distracting our attention and causing anxiety and depression and changing the way we think about ourselves. The third factor is that kids are just unemployed. They don’t have household or after-school jobs. They don’t have productive roles in the communities. They’re always performing.
And that means that as their behavior shifts it puts them at odds with parents. Is the issue, from your perspective, that discipline tactics haven’t changed with kids?
A lot of us instinctively reach for are the carrot and the stick — the authoritarian way of parenting or the reward systems. And 50 years ago authoritarian parenting worked well because we had a more authoritarian world. Corporate culture had a clear chain of command. Family life had a clear chain of command.
Right. And the world is different now.
Since then we’ve had so much change that many of us really want democratic families. Even for parents who don’t want that, culture is still imbued with those values. Kids are going to pick…