Back in the 1970s, my police officer father would take me on errands. He called them “Adventures.” They were anything but. I would sit in the front seat of his green 1968 Porsche 912, while he talked it up with his buddies in the hardware store. I spent what felt like hours exploring the contents of his glove compartment: a metal coiled measuring tape that I would repeatedly slap against my wrist and make into a bracelet; the black rubber change purse, oval with a slit, filled with coins for the meter that my dad fastidiously refilled; the miniature notepad to record mileage that I never dared to write in. Rules ruled our house, and my dad made them. Rules and lessons and lectures. That’s just how it was.
I swore that I would be a different kind of parent. So did a lot of us. Out of the parenting styles of the 70s and 80s grew something different: Responsive Parenting. Responsive parents are “in tune” with their child. They are sensitive to their child’s emotional and physical needs and respond accordingly. They show love without condition, and avoid punishment at all costs. They are constantly reflecting on their jobs as parents, often times feeling guilty that they are just not doing ENOUGH for their child. Responsive Parents like myself have big hearts and the best intentions, but as children get older we are seeing some of the downsides of this style of parenting. The culture of the classroom has shifted, and teachers are noticing.
Imagine a child who has been given choice and voice their whole life. Now imagine that child as they enter elementary school, where they are sharing their world with 20-some other children. Imagine a parent who has invested all of themselves into their child. They know their child intimately. They are on Facebook, virtually steeped in the curated lives of all of their friends’ and their friends’ kids. They read articles and join closed parenting groups for support and information. They have all of the Internet at their fingertips: Quick answers for parents and immediate gratification for kids. Children carry technology around with them so that God forbid they don’t become bored. Student focus time is waning. Consequently, teacher has turned into entertainer. Big interactive screens and microphones have entered our classrooms, to increase student engagement.
How does this cultural shift change the relationship between student and teacher, even in the most progressive of schools? How about between students and parents? Between parents and teachers? Between students and each other? And it makes me think about the other kids, the ones who have culturally been raised in different ways. What is the classroom community like for them?
Flashback to the late 1990s when I first started teaching. I spent a decade in the classroom before having kids of my own. 23 and engaged and as it turned out too young to be married, let along have kids. I would come to work clothed in my teacher mother’s hand-me-downs, dressing up as the professional I wanted to become. Parents would reach out and ask me for advice of how to best parent their child. Armed with a master’s degree and a head full of book smarts, it would have to be enough until my experience kicked in. And it was.
This leaves me wondering who today’s children will become: These children from the grand experiment we call Responsive Parenting. What type of spouses and partners will they become? What will they be like out in the workforce? And how will professions adjust to capitalize on the many strengths that they truly do have including assertion, collaboration, and problem solving skills. I’m also curious to see what type of parents my daughter’s generation will become. How will they respond to and revise our very well intentioned mistakes?
Chrysta Powell has a B.A. in Psychology and a M.Ed. from UCLA. She is an elementary school teacher, Director at Beautycounter, commuter, and writer of #cartalkwithchrystaandemma. Chrysta is a Type 1 Mom/Stage Mom. She lives in Los Angeles with her musically inclined tween daughter, miniature Australian Labradoodle, and very understanding husband.