Why Parenting Experts Want You To Raise Independent, Kind Kids

Why Parenting Experts Want You To Raise Independent, Kind Kids
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One of 12 Health & Wellness trends that will shape 2020.

Trends in parenting styles shift as generations do. Now? Most experts we speak to come to a consensus on one idea: We need to reemphasize raising kinder, more empathetic, and independent kids.

The backlash to helicopter parenting.

This all comes as a stark departure from helicopter parenting—the last major buzzword in parenting circles. The term "helicopter parenting" was coined in 1990 by child development researchers and parenting experts Foster Cline and Jim Fay. It sought to give a name to a specific parenting style that defined a generation: parents constantly hovering around their kid, eager to come to the rescue at a moment's notice. As most parenting movements are, it was born of the best intentions. But slowly experts have come to realize that it might have unintended consequences. 

One study published in the journal of Developmental Psychology studied how this parenting style affected kids long term. The researchers found that children whose parents exhibited "helicopter" tendencies (like dictating how they played), were less able to regulate their emotions as they grew up. Or on the topic of burnout (another one of our wellness trends this year), a study published this September found that helicopter parenting led kids to increased feelings of burnout in college. Some also suggest that the trend is likely linked to the current rise of stress and anxiety among young adults. 

Bobbi Wegner, Psy.D.—who is also a clinical psychologist at Boston Behavioral Medicine and adjunct lecturer in child advocacy at Harvard Graduate School of Education—agrees that this is all leading to the mental health crisis affecting kids today—a more stressed-out young adult demographic. "Kids aren’t given the tools to succeed on their own, and as they grow up, we see the outcomes—increased mental health issues and poor coping. Anxiety is the polio of this generation," she says.


This has meant a shift in priorities—away from overparenting, toward independence.

Anecdotally, too, many child care experts have started to encourage more independence. This year famed high school teacher Esther Wojcicki released How To Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, the bestselling parenting book encouraging a more collaborative and trusting parenting style. "These parents think they are doing the best for their kids, but they're not. You can support them, like a scaffold, but they need to do it—not you. There are some parents who think, Well I'm an adult, I know best, I've already been through all this, so I am going to do it because it's easier and more efficient. Why not? Well, the 'why not' is because you disempower your child," she told mindbodygreen in a recent Q+A about raising three very successful kids herself. (They've grown up to be the CEO of YouTube, the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, and an assistant professor at UCSF with a Ph.D. and master's in public health.) 

Here at mindbodygreen, we've also created a parenting series to address this idea: Why You Want To Raise a Wild Child. We spoke to child care experts far and wide, and among the many benefits they offered for raising independent, active kids was stress reduction, stronger brain development, creative thinking, problem-solving, and more confidence. "This isn't just talk about the 'good old days,' but there is actual research that shows raising your kid with these priorities in mind is beneficial," licensed psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D., CNS, told us for the series. "Kids need nature, they need unstructured time, and they need play. It may seem like this is just 'fun,' but we know from research that this is how they grow."

But it's not just independence: The turn away from competitive parenting has given way to raising kinder kids.

It's obviously not that past generations didn't want to raise kind children: But with this shift in parenting styles has come a reorganization of priorities. If you are no longer solely focused on ambition and always pushing for more, what takes its place? Some experts argue: the importance of kindness.

In a recent issue of the Atlantic, authors and parents Adam and Allison Sweet Grant argued just this in "Stop Trying To Raise Successful Kids." They used a past Harvard-led report that found that while 90% of parents wanted to raise caring kids—81% of the kids themselves said that their parents valued personal achievement over caring for others. This emphasis, they say, is contributing to many of the mental health concerns we see today. Their final argument was that, "overemphasizing individual achievement may cause a deficit of caring. But we don't actually have to choose between the two. In fact, teaching children to care about others might be the best way to prepare them for a successful and fulfilling life."   

Or take Wojicki, above. Her book may be marketed as a how-to guide to raising successful adults, but the "K," in her TRICK method actually stands for "kindness." In fact, as she told me earlier this year, she actually recommends that parents start there and work their way backward: "When people are kind to you and kind to each other, it invigorates the entire world."   

So what's a parent to do? That's one of the things the new wellness space Headfirst, founded by Wegner, seeks to address. It aims to create a space for families that encourages mental well-being. According to Wegner, one of the possible reasons our society turned to this more overprotective and personal achievement parenting style in the first place was the loss of neighborhood and community—and perhaps finding a community of like-minded families will make parents feel less anxious about their experiences.

You know the phrase: It takes a village.

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