Parenting seemed simpler in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Sans psychologists or childrearing seminars, discipline was strict and swift. While contemporary moms and dads may reject their predecessors’ authoritarian ways, studies confirm that children raised during this parenting golden age were not only more obedient and respectful than today’s children, but also happier.
Here are five parenting “golden oldies” worth resurrecting for everyone’s sake.
1. Family Dinners
Question: What family ritual spurs higher grades and lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, obesity and depression? Answer: shared mealtimes. In fact, eating with the family at least five times a week provides kids with stability, strong familial bonds and opportunities to learn, reports thefamilydinnerproject.org, a grassroots movement offering busy parents tips on making the most of mealtimes. With each additional meal, adolescents experience fewer emotional and behavioral problems and higher life satisfaction. Once a customary ritual, today family dinners average just three times a week and last less than 20 minutes—including distractions (TV, phones, etc.)—despite a Reader’s Digest survey that finds that family dinners predict academic success better than whether children live with one or both parents.
2. Allowing Failure
Today’s kids are advanced intellectually, but behind emotionally. Research indicts micromanaging parents for producing a generation that’s lacking necessary life skills and is generally unprepared for adulthood. Nashville fifth-grade teacher Sally Bennett says, “These children have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions and resolving conflict.” When parents shield children from natural consequences they’re conveying doubt in those children’s abilities to cope. Instead, Bennett recommends expressing faith in their capabilities by asking, “What could you do to fix the situation?” Children need to know that they’ll survive setbacks. Failure leads to more effort, self-reflection, accountability and resiliency.
Rudeness is on the rise, and upbringing—or lack thereof—is to blame, according to public consensus. Psychologists suggest that the ’50s cultural shift sidetracked parents from teaching common courtesies to their children, making manners virtually obsolete ever since.
So what if your child doesn’t say the “magic words” or make eye contact? Manners aren’t just social niceties. A national survey of preschool teachers reveals that parents can positively influence their children’s school success by encouraging proper etiquette, which builds confidence and communication skills. “Good manners,” adds Bennett, “create positive impressions on others.” On a broader scale, treating others as you would like to be treated promotes further prosocial behavior benefiting everybody.
A predominantly American phenomenon, parents ask less of their children than ever before. A University of Maryland study finds that our kids ages 6 to 12 years old average merely 24 minutes of daily chores. The importance of childhood chores has been replaced by the idea that children need freedom to voice their opinions. Not surprisingly, children expressed their dislike of doing chores.
JoAnn Stookey of Phoenix raised five children during the ‘50s and ‘60s. “I depended on my kids’ help, from cooking and cleaning to gardening.” Her 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, she says, have fewer responsibilities and spend less time doing chores. Chores teach children time management and prioritizing, and research supports that they actually feel happier when contributing meaningfully to the family.
5. At-Home Birthday Parties
“The more extravagant the better” seems to be the motto when it comes to throwing children’s parties nowadays. A new report by event booking service GigMasters.com shows the average amount spent on children’s parties has steadily increased: in 2013, 70 percent of parents spent at least $300, and 14 percent spent more than $1,000 per party. Despite the “party circuit” stressing schedules and budgets, party vendor bookings have risen, too. Busy parents often outsource parties, feeling pressure to come up with over-the-top themes, venues and party favors. Accordingly, say researchers, parents are creating a culture of overindulgence, entitlement, envy and materialism. Birthdays Without Pressure, a group of parents who advocate toning down kids’ parties, offers advice on throwing affordable birthday bashes.
6. Free Play
For more than 50 years, children’s playtime has been consistently dwindling. Adults have curtailed time for hide and seek and building forts with an unprecedented emphasis on education, along with growing safety concerns such as child predators, road traffic and bullies. But, as playtime declined—kids have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago—so did mental health. Currently, one in five school-age children has a diagnosable mental disorder, and youth suicide rates have radically increased. New research from Germany shows a correlation between ample time for independent, unstructured play, which compels kids to deal with changing circumstances and environments, and adult social success.