I’m starting to get a complex. You can only ignore seemingly endless criticism of your generation for so long before you start taking it to heart. When I am struggling with my kids, I find myself coming back to the same questions: Maybe I am too permissive? Is it because I spend too much time on my screen? When the going gets tough, and it most certainly does with three kids aged 4 and under at home, I come back to the fear that I am failing my kids, just like the rest of the millennial generation, because I’m too soft or too self-focused or because I don't discipline my kids as much as previous generations did.
When I’m thinking more clearly, I know better than to believe this is true. I know I am a good mom, that I work hard to teach my kids to be decent people, and that I am working on growing as an individual so I can be the mom my kids need. When I’m thinking more clearly, I even start to see that, in some ways, parents like me are doing a better job than previous generations. In fact, there is one big way we’ve improved on the parenting techniques of our parents: millennial parents are spanking our kids less and I think that's something to be incredibly proud of.
There really shouldn’t be any debating about spanking any longer. This isn’t one of those parenting conversations like breast milk or formula, working mom or stay-at-home. Research has spoken and there really is a wrong way to discipline and it's spanking your child. In general, spanking doesn’t result in long-term or short-term compliance. Kids may stop what they are doing at the time of their spanking, but they aren’t actually learning to make good choices about what's right and what's wrong. Trends also show that spanking not only doesn’t reduce aggression in children as most parents hope, it actually causes an increase in aggressive behaviors over time.
I am especially proud because I know firsthand just how difficult it can be to give up spanking when that feels like the "normal" way to parent.
It has taken some time, but I think a lot of other parents may finally be ready to take the research to heart and choose alternative methods of discipline. Call us “delicate flowers” all you want, but it seems like our sensitivity has allowed us millennials to decrease spanking trends and opt for other types of discipline. Data collected from 1988, 1998, and 2011 showed that, in middle-income families, support of spanking by parents has dropped from 46 percent to 21 percent, according to a study published in Pediatrics.
Those stats aren’t perfect, but I am really proud of the steps my generation is taking to parent in a way that's more emotionally nurturing for our children. I am especially proud because I know firsthand just how difficult it can be to give up spanking when that feels like the "normal" way to parent.
Giving up spanking is hard because everything else feels much more ambiguous and it isn’t always clear that what I'm doing to correct their behavior is working.
My parents used spanking in our home when I was growing up, so I often find myself struggling to think of alternatives when my children need correction. In a way, it feels like spanking is the easier form of discipline. Your child does something naughty, you give them a swat and move on, right? When that isn’t an option anymore, I have to take the time to slow down and think about the best way to connect with this specific child. Should I redirect them? Should allow for natural consequences? Should practice time-in or timeout? Giving up spanking is hard because everything else feels much more ambiguous and it isn’t always clear that what I'm doing to correct their behavior is working.
When it comes to criticism from other generations, they can keep at it. Meanwhile, I'll remain determined not to become a self-fulfilling prophecy of laziness, poor parenting, or entitlement — and that's not to say that I think members of the previous generations fell victim to that. I just believe millennial moms are parenting differently. So I'll continue to do things differently, even when it feels like a risk or feels uncomfortable because I'm stepping so far out of what I know about parenting from my own experience. I'll keep on insisting that parenting well without spanking is not only possible, it’s important, and encourage and praise other millennial mothers who are doing the same.