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Parenting is a Full-Time Job
Roughly half of Americans currently raising a kid under 18 say they have used authoritative or gentle parenting techniques. This survey shows that parents today are using much more intensive and time-consuming parenting techniques to raise their kids than their own parents ever used with them.
In this survey, 1,000 U.S. adults were asked about six popular parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, gentle, uninvolved, and helicopter. They included parents and nonparents of all ages. The respondents were given the following descriptions of each parenting style:
Most of these parenting styles are widely known or aptly described by their name. The one that is probably the least recognized—and the least clearly explained—is gentle parenting, which has become popular only in recent years. (See “Millennial Parents Embrace Gentle Parenting.”) While the word “gentle” might conjure visions of little or no discipline, this style is in fact exhausting for parents and affords lots of structure for kids. Parents act like coaches and guide their children to talk about their feelings.
Respondents were asked which parenting styles are effective for raising kids today. (They could select more than one style, so the answers are more indicative of which styles Americans don’t like than of which styles they do.) They also chose which parenting styles their own primary caregivers used when raising them.
The first big takeaway is that, while support for every parenting style has risen compared to what respondents recall from their own childhood, today’s parents are relatively more likely to support more intensive and hands-on approaches to raising their children. Permissive and uninvolved parenting are hardly more popular today than it was when the respondents were kids. All the other parenting styles, by contrast, are much more popular.
What do these other four styles have in common? They all require much more time and effort from the parents, either in monitoring their children 24/7 (helicopter), in discussing their children’s emotions (gentle), or in setting and enforcing rules and boundaries (authoritative or authoritarian). While Americans prefer a range of styles, it’s clear that parenting is seen as a more challenging job today. (See “Middle-Class Parenting Habits Are Becoming the Norm.”)
The second takeaway is the sharp contrast between how different generations were raised and what parenting styles they think are effective today. Only 19% of U.S. adults, for instance, were raised with a gentle parenting style. (Not surprisingly, it’s 45- to 64-year-old Gen Xers who are the least likely to have been raised this way at 14%.) But fully 46% believe that this style works well today.
Similarly, only 7% of American adults say they had helicopter parents. (Again, not surprisingly, it’s 18- to 29-year-old Millennials—16%—who are most likely to report having been hovered over.) But 31% of American adults now say this style is effective. Among parents who now have kids under age 18, the share who support helicopter parenting is significantly higher (47%), making it the third-best regarded style after authoritative and gentle. This is remarkable considering the unflattering language used by YouGov to describe this style (“hovering over them” and “micromanaging their every move”).
When the parents of children under 18 are asked what parenting styles they’re actually using, authoritative and gentle (both 51%) were the clear winners. Far behind in third place was authoritarian at 26%.
The survey also asked adults under 65 who do not have children which parenting styles they think would use if they were a parent. The most popular answer among 30- to 44-year-olds was authoritative (61%), with gentle in a distant second place at 36%. 45- to 64-year-olds had the same top two.
But among 18- to 29-year-olds, gentle was the most common answer (44%), which just edged out authoritative (42%). Late-wave Millennials were also significantly more likely to support hands-off parenting styles, with 25% saying they would be either permissive or uninvolved parents. Just 13% of 30- to 44-year-olds and 6% of 45- to 64-year-olds said the same.
In part, this may simply reflect the answers of young adults who don’t have kids and haven’t thought seriously about how they would raise them. (Most parents, talking to nonparents, would probably channel Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan…”) But it may also reflect long-term aspirations that stick with them as they grow older and have kids themselves. I have suggested that late-wave Millennials may turn out to be more permissive parents out of a desire to give their children the opposite of their meticulously structured and constantly monitored childhoods. It’s a tale as old as time: We parent in opposition to the way we were parented. But we won’t see this play out until the 2030s and 2040s.
That’s all for this Friday. Stay tuned for our piece tomorrow (we’re calling these Saturday Shorts) to close out the week. For our U.S. subscribers, enjoy your long weekend. Demography Unplugged now has readers in 40 states and 35 countries—thank you for subscribing and supporting us! Please use the links below to share this post, or to sign up if you’re not already a subscriber.