January 23, 2024

Gentle Parenting vs. Apathetic Parenting

Many Millennial parents are falling for two systems of parenting that are toxic for their Gen Alpha kiddos.

The parenting of Generation Alpha is one that has been decried by teachers and other generations alike. Gen Alpha already has the reputation of being emotionally immature, disrespectful toward authority, and exhibitors of sociopathic self-centeredness. Gen Alpha is largely being raised by Millennials (and some Gen Xers) who, as the offspring of Baby Boomers, seem to be reacting to the strict parenting style of their parents by swinging the opposite direction.

Parenting is hard. Every child is different, and every parent is navigating and growing as they learn on the job. However, there is a difference between parenting and abdicating responsibility, the latter of which seems to be what many Millennials are doing.

First on the docket is gentle parenting. Gentle parenting, or respectful parenting, “centers on acknowledging a child’s feelings and the motivations behind challenging behavior, as opposed to correcting the behavior itself,” as defined by Jessica Winter of The New Yorker. “The gentle parent holds firm boundaries, gives a child choices instead of orders, and eschews rewards, punishments, and threats.”

Gentle parenting has many great aspects to it and provides wonderful opportunities and encouragement to parents wanting to help facilitate a respectful relationship with their children as well as model healthy interactions in charged moments. The biggest downside to this model is that, though respectfulness is modeled to the children through the parents, not every child will copy that behavior. In fact, many children will see that “respect” and choose to respond in a not gentle or respectful way.

As Winter further points out, “deference to a child’s every mood, the strict maintenance of emotional affect, [and] the notion that trying to keep to a schedule could be ‘authoritarian’” are draining and unrealistic. This is perhaps because the idea of gentle parenting comes from a perspective that holds that all people are basically good and that with just enough calm explaining, children will make the right choices. This is, of course, nonsense. This idea, when taken to its extreme, quickly reveals that, in fact, everyone is a sinner.

Gentle parenting often excuses bad behavior and instead frames that behavior as a threat/stress response. In other words, the parent is to blame for the behavior because the child was merely reacting in response to them. Sometimes, kids are just disobedient because they can be, even if they know better. And as Winter further points out, the gentle parenting approach is merely the inverse of authoritarian parenting (to overgeneralize, Boomer parenting). In other words, the child is allowed to be the one to dictate all the rules to the parents, and it’s all on the parents to cater to that child’s every whim and emotion. This is the toxic side of “gentle parenting.” It’s parental abdication by refusing to actually hold boundaries with your children.

There is a far more toxic parenting method that is often visible in most public arenas. This approach doesn’t have an official name, but “apathetic parenting” is probably the most suitable. This is a “parenting style” in which parents don’t have to deal with their children at all. They are enabled in this endeavor by plopping their children in front of screens such as iPads or cellphones.

The screen becomes the parent, teacher, and addiction. Parents who use the screen as a babysitter are depriving their children of learning how to behave in public, how to have and hold conversations, and how to deal with difficult emotions like boredom. Developmentally, it rewires their brains in a detrimental manner. Too much screen time affects their vision, their motor skills, their attention span, and their ability to learn. It affects them physically as well. A child who is screen-addicted is less likely to be active.

To be clear, a parent who occasionally lets their kid watch a movie or play on a phone isn’t an apathetic parent. It is those parents who, the second their kid wakes up in the morning, hand them a screen, and that screen is permanently attached to that child wherever he or she goes. When that child is seen apart from their screen of choice, they are holy terrors, having no clue how to behave or socialize.

Gentle parenting and apathetic parenting are almost perfect allegories for the cultural issues at hand. Our culture either wants everyone to do whatever they want and never be triggered, or It wants people addicted to the online world and totally socially inept. Either type is easily controlled and manipulated.

Moreover, raising a generation of disrespectful and emotionally stunted children isn’t exactly an advertisement for the next generation to correct the low birth rate. So perhaps those of us with Gen Alpha kids need to make sure we are not falling into these toxic parenting styles. We need to engage and parent, not capitulate and ignore our kids.

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