Coddling: The Shift in Parenting Styles and the Effect on the Development of Adolescents


In the nature of society, people want to protect the ones that they love, a relationship especially evident in parents and children. The ways in which parents try to show this love varies among people, with some parents being more protective than others. In today’s culture, there has been a dramatic shift in the development of adolescents socially, academically, and internally due the influence of parents. A “helicopter parent” can be defined as someone who tries to overprotect their child, hovering over their children in order to eliminate any pain or hardship they may encounter in the path to success. This idea never existed in earlier history as children were given greater freedom to explore the world around them and experience failure without parents watching their every move. This shift in parenting styles can be attributed to different areas of society, and therefore, has been noticeable in different aspects of civic life. Through evaluation in the change in parenting styles, it can be shown that overparenting has consequential effects on the development of adolescents, leaving them unprepared for the “real world” and obstacles they will encounter as they age.

Throughout history, an interest in parenting styles and its affect on children had only arisen starting in the 1900s. Starting in 1928, when behaviorist John Broadus Watson wrote the book, “Psychological Care of Infant and Child”, he presented children as malleable objects, controlled by parents so that they may be best prepared for society (Coste). He encouraged parents to order strict behavior so that children would not be spoiled. In 1946, Benjamin Spock, a representative of the Freudian view of children, encouraged parents to evaluate the perspective of children to understand what was best for them (Coste). His viewpoint showed the relationships of parents and children in a team oriented view, and that by working together and understanding why children acted out, discipline could be more appropriately sanctioned for the child’s respective age. In the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind identified the three most common styles of parenting in the American middle class in which the authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative parenting styles emerged (Coste).The authoritative style combined the ideas of Watson and Freud in which parents should both control their children and understand their viewpoint in order to respond accordingly. Baumrind’s views indicated that children were happiest and performed best in school when they were prepared for the demands of society but also had a sense of individualism found by using the authoritative parenting style. From the evolution of these ideas, parenting styles shifted despite the evidence that encouraged the best way to prepare children.

While defining the parenting style that works best, parenting styles were altered in the opposite way, and the freedom children should have been given was taken back. In earlier years, parents focused on raising unselfish, yet responsive children, where modern times have a greater focus on building a child’s self esteem and individuality. Children were once expected to go out for the day, whether that be school or a physical activity such as riding bikes, and then return home to eat the dinner placed in front of them. John Becker, a marriage and family therapist, believes that parents have grown more sensitive to the needs of children (Norman 2015). This shift has made kids more accustomed to having their needs fulfilled, indicating a trend that could make them more self-centered and less motivated, making them less successful in approaching conversations and taking on challenges in today’s modern world.

In evaluation of this shift, several changes in society have indicated that this shift is taking place, and the nature of society has been altered to promote this style of parenting that continues to negatively affect the children being raised. Following graduation from college, more students are returning home to live with parents regardless of their employment status, increasing the age at which people buy their first home. More students are waiting to acquire savings or are still trying to find ways to be independent from parental influence when growing up, they constantly had people dictating their lives. According a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, more 18-34 year olds live in their parents’ home rather than any other living arrangement (Dickler 2016). This can be attributed to the desire to have other people take care of them and discourages adolescents from taking financial responsibility for themselves and allows them to remain in their comfort zones.

Additionally, laws in society have been made to accommodate this change in the dynamic between parents and children. Under the Affordable Care Act, a person can remain on their parent’s health insurance coverage until the age of 26 (US Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services). At the age of 26, society generally assumes expectations on a person based on the idea of a social clock, the culturally preferred timing of social events, however, the ages in which these events are typically taking place is changing. Regardless, people can remain on their parent’s coverage even if they are married, in school, or turn down a job offer that provides health insurance benefits as children are more prone to staying in the “coddled” life they experienced growing up because it is easier for them than making steps towards independence.

Media and television has also influenced the way in which children have been coddled in society. The Karate Kid, a movie that came out in 1984 showed a protagonist that was forced to rise above the hardship he faced from bullies in order to overcome challenges and stand up for himself, ideas that correlated with the beliefs of the time. However, with evolution of characters like Harry Potter, children’s view of roles in culture have been changed. Figures in media like Harry Potter were able to get away with whatever they wanted and receive no punishments. Harry Potter was the “chosen one” of a fantasy world, and his choices in the wizarding world are presented in a way that makes him appealing to a young audience hoping to be like him and believing they can do anything without repercussions. The changes in the protagonists of movies is reflective of the mindset of children between these different times periods in culture.

Due to the change in beliefs of parents reflected in their parenting styles, there has been an ideological indication of this shift. The “raised in praise” phenomenon has increased based on the shift of parenting. This phenomenon presents the idea that everyone’s a winner and deserves a trophy even when a child hasn’t done anything worthy of praise. This has encouraged parents to micromanage their children because they feel they can dictate their children’s success (Morman 2015). If a student underperforms on tests, parents immediately assume it is the fault of the teacher. In order for children to reach the level of success demanded by students, parents will fight to ensure their child gets the grade they think they deserve, showing the influence compromising ability and desire can have on the development of children.

Furthermore, the shift in mentality and coddling of children is shown through different beliefs. In the generation of millennials’ parents, they were told to “toughen up” if they encountered a bully at school or someone said something they didn’t like. For millennials, there is a high toleration against bullying in any aspect and the phrase “that offends me” is supposed to be taken as seriously as a threat to a person’s life. Millennials have grown overly-sensitive to ideas and opinions of others, especially those of older generations and immediately deem their opinions as “outdated”. The increased sensitivity found in college students has promoted a greater desire for “trigger warnings”. In a country that stands for freedom of speech, a freedom and expression of ideas is often warranted with reminding people not to offend anyone that doesn’t share their idea. In a society that is more accepting, everyone has viewed their ideas as correct. There has been a greater presence of politically correct ideas which has decreased critical thinking and alternative ideas. Different viewpoints are no longer viewed as opinions, but rather, criticisms of the other side. By limiting the topics and controversies that can be discussed, the way in which reform and change can be brought about is discouraged.

The shift in parenting styles has affected different areas of society in various ways. This differing mindset can have possible differences among races, economic status, and cultural influence. Throughout history, different races have been attributed with different parenting styles. The Chinese culture is stereotyped with the “tiger mom” ideals. The Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, a book by Amy Chua published in 2011 defines a “tiger mom” as a mother who is a strict disciplinarian. She reported of a study in which Chinese immigrant mothers said they held the belief that their children could be among the best students and that their parenting reflected their children’s academic success. Chua mentioned a time in which she called her child “garbage” because her daughter was unable to learn a piano piece and wouldn’t let her eat, drink, or go to the bathroom until she learned it (Chua 2011).

In extreme cases, the coddling of a child can be shown in the defense of children in the court of law. Brock Turner, a white Stanford swimmer convicted of rape charges, was given a lightened sentence, a parallel to the change in punishments of children in society. Brock’s father, Dan Turner, wrote a letter to the judge in order to change his sentencing to probation. In his letter, he wrote of Brock saying, “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” (Cleary 2016). Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail, and of that time he was only expected to serve three months. He originally faced a maximum of 14 years in prison, but the prosecutors of the cased asked for a 6 year sentence, where the state probation officer recommended under a year of jail time. He is set to serve 3 years of probation, and despite such a lenient sentencing for his crimes, he is appealing his conviction (Cleary 2016). Coddling children in this way can have an affect not only on the child’s life, but on the life of others if parents try to inhibit children from taking responsibility for their own crimes.

Furthermore, there can be a trend observed among parenting in the African American culture. African American parents aim to ensure that their children are well-behaved in public so that they are not viewed as “non-threatening and civilized” in order not to perpetuate a racial stereotype. In a study called “Parenting Styles – African American and White Families with Childrenconducted through UNC at Chapel Hill by researcher Kyle Longest, male children were more strictly parented than females. Some African American parents do this in order to prepare them for the realistic nature of white supremacy, however, this type of parenting often deems aggression as an appropriate behavior. A study by The American Sociological Association from 2002 study showed a trend in disciplinarian or authoritarian approaches to parenting for African Americans and that a “take-charge” mentality was used more often than by white parents. The reasoning for this type of parenting was correlated with an attempt to prepare children to face discrimination and social environments that do not show a preference for people of color (King 2015). Understanding the variation about the trends in the parenting styles and the nature in which the coddling mindset has emerged is crucial to understanding the paradigm shift that has taken place in society.

This shift in parenting styles, which in turn has led to a shift to the coddled mindset of children, can be shown as a response to different factors encountered in modern society. There is a growing growing pressure on children in today’s world to succeed and achieve academically and socially. When applying to colleges, students are plagued with trying to be the “whole package”, someone who has a great GPA, standardized tests scores, and takes on leadership roles in several clubs and activities. Trying to check all these boxes is hard to balance if a student is unprepared or not educated in order to do this, which often requires some influence from a parent or advisor in order to achieve this, however, it has changed from a need to seek help and turned into asking other people to do it for them, allowing students to take the “easy way out”. With the increased technology and social media influence, students see other people achieving what they hope to achieve, and want what others have, an egotistical view that has affected young minds. Students’ attention span and inability to see the value of hard work has diminished because knowledge is so easily accessible. This shift has allowed parents to fight the battles of their children, resulting in a lack of communication abilities in teenagers and lack of work ethic. Finally, the ideological values of parents has changed and helping children cope with the struggles of the world they face is prioritized over guiding them to overcome the hardship themselves. Shifting back to a society that encourages individualism and independence is essential in developing children holistically.

In evaluation of this shift and its role in civic life, the evidence suggests that coddling children and promoting a sensitized view of the world can result in detrimental consequences. College students are shown to be lacking the ability to cope on their own. Dan Jones, a president for the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors said, “Students haven’t developed the skills to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations,” (Coddled Kids Crumble 2016). Julie Lythcott-Haims, dean of freshmen at Stanford University, noticed that incoming student appeared flawless on paper, but in reality, seemed more incapable of taking care of themselves as parents became more involved in the lives of their children. “Over-helping” allowed children to develop impressive resumes but prevented them from self discovery and exploration of the world according to Lythcott-Haims (Brown 2016). Furthermore, due to an inability to deal with adversity on their own, they are less likely to become successful adults. The evidence suggests that coddled children are unable to meet the demands of their peer groups, demands at school, or the demands of everyday life. When children have “intoxicating” levels of gratification, they are no longer motivated because they never learned resilience (Rock 2016). In order to develop individuals better suited to adapt to their environments, self regulation and an adaptable mindset are needed. Evaluation of a person’s strengths and shortcomings are needed in order to improve. The problem that arises when people are critiqued is a lowered self esteem because of the sensitivity that has resulted in everyday life. Instead of students straying from areas in which they are not confident in, they should seek out these challenges to gain insights about themselves and take part of new experiences.

Through evaluation of this paradigm shift, it is clear that a change in society has resulted in the way in which children are raised. In looking at areas in which the shift is made evident, like education, law, ideologies, and media, this evolution of a mindset that protects children from the sometimes harsh nature of the universe is detrimental to their development as individuals capable of operating in the realm of civic life. Watching children like specimens in a microscope limits their freedom and makes them void as members of society, incapable of producing any new or original ideas than those deemed fit by others around them. This environment has negative consequences on creating members of civic life able to hear and develop opinions on their everyday world. For most people, it is easier for people to point the finger rather than look in the mirror. As human beings, people are capable of great things if they are willing to be challenged, and no single cause can be the blame for this shift in development. Understanding the ways in which society has adjusted for this shift is a way in which to prevent its future complications. By incorporating a parenting style that encourages growth and development while providing nurture and encouragement, the development of civic life will be better able to think about controversies and the spread of new ideas.

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