How are millennials different from gen-Xers when it comes to parenting?

The COVID-19 pandemic will not stop Londoners from having a fun weekend with their loved ones this Family Day. Getty Images

At some point, every parent will inevitably mutter the phrase, “We didn’t do that in my day,” while watching a younger person handle their children. Though it may sound judgmental (and it almost always is), it also rings true.

Attitudes and beliefs in parenting change from generation to generation as we learn more about child development, and are exposed to different cultures and philosophies. But this doesn’t mean one generation is better at raising kids than another.

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How some parents are ditching expectations and writing their own rules

“Generally, we want to look at parenting and what’s in the best interest of the child versus comparing generations, but the facts tell us that there are differences,” says Gail Bell, co-founder of Parenting Power in Calgary. “There are more working moms now than ever before and that brings about a lot of positives, including more openness to what a family can look like and more stay-at-home dads.”

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Gen-Xers vs. Millennials

She says that research shows generation X parents are much more focused on scheduling their kids and making sure their time is balanced and organized, while millennial parents are more laid back.

According to a report by FutureCast, 61 per cent of millennial parents believe their kids need more unstructured playtime, and they consider themselves “drone” parents (versus helicopter parents), which means they still hover to a certain degree, but they follow and respond to their kids versus directing them or scheduling them. They also list open-mindedness, empathy and curiosity as the most valuable qualities in their children.

However, Bell says, the one area where millennial parents separate themselves from the rest is in their use of (and dependence on) digital devices.

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Millennials are tech-obsessed

For starters, millennials themselves rely on digital devices and the internet to provide them with information on parenting, much more than going to a trusted source, like their own parents or friends.

In an article that ran in the New York Times, Rebecca Parlakian, program director for Zero to Three, a baby and toddler advocacy group, said millennial parents (or “parennials” as they were dubbed) are “high information.”

“The good news is that parents know more about child development than ever before,” she said. “Google is the new grandparent, the new neighbour, the new nanny.”

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However, the flip side is that they have a tendency to turn to digital devices and the internet to entertain their kids and keep them occupied.

READ MORE: From baby boomers to millennials: Which generation speaks to you?

Millennials use tech as their babysitter

“Technology is a crazy useful tool, but we don’t use it so much as we consume it,” Bell says. “Parents say it’s important for their kid to have a phone early so they know how to use it, but they’re not using it to code. It’s for games and to babysit their kid.”

Charla Caponi, a 43-year-old brand communication consultant and gen-X mother-of-two who lives in Italy, says she and her husband have instituted a no screens rule for their two daughters, aged 9 and 7, unless they need to look something up for school.

“We may allow them on very rare occasions [to play on one of our phones] when we are out at a restaurant, after we’ve finished the meal and the adults are running over with stories,” she says. “We do live in Italy, so meals take forever. But I really push them to use their imagination; screens are not healthy in my opinion.”
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For many parents, though, allowing their child to play a game or watch an episode of Paw Patrol on their phone or tablet is all they can do to get some quiet time, whether that’s at a restaurant or a doctor’s office.

Kristen Corvers-Vettraino, a 36-year-old mortgage agent in Niagara on the Lake, Ont., and millennial mom-of-two, admits that her toddler son watches too much TV but says he remains “smart and creative,” so she doesn’t worry too much.

“We have limits on phone and iPad game time,” she says. “He gets to play when we desperately need him to chill, like when I’m getting a dental cleaning or we’re trying to get through the tail end of a meal at a restaurant.”

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But she recognizes that when he has too much screen time, he’ll become obsessive and whiny, and will constantly ask to play with her phone.

They also use it as their adult sitter

The issue isn’t just that kids are using the phones, though. It’s that millennial parents are often hiding behind these screens themselves. Bell points out that speech therapy is the largest growing therapy practice in Canada. Why? Because children need to see a person’s face in order to learn how to properly move their mouths when they speak.

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“These kids aren’t seeing their parents’ faces.”

A survey sponsored by Common Sense Media found that parents spend as much time in front of screens as teens and tweens, and 80 per cent of that time is for pleasure, not work. In addition, Bell says the average mom spends two more hours online today than she did six years ago — “but they say they don’t have time to cook a homemade meal.”

Social media inevitably plays into this as well. Nearly 90 per cent of millennials use social media, compared to 76 per cent of gen-Xers; 46 per cent of millennials posted a picture of their youngest child to social media when it was in-utero or less than one day old versus 10 per cent of gen-Xers.

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“Kids hear the phrase, ‘Just wait,’ more times in a day than they hear, ‘I love you.’ You know why? Because their parents are taking pictures,” Bell says.

While there’s nothing wrong with using social media to share pictures of your children with far-flung family members, Bell says it comes down to role-modelling and what an obsession with social media, and likes, says to your kids.

“Parents of all generations are truly trying their best and doing the best they can for their kids. However, we need to be aware of what we’re modelling for them. The great thing about millennial parents is that they’re more ethnically diverse and more tolerant of alternative family and gender roles, but this need for external approval is worrisome.”


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