Parenthood: It's all about the right balance

There are two underlying issues to our story today which relates to contemporary parenting practices compared with those of the previous generation. Attitudes have changed dramatically between the time when Lynette Honeysett was growing up in the 1960s and the methodology employed by her children as they bring up their own offspring, Lynette's grandchildren. Changing attitudes to discipline and the impact of digital media are important factors in this complex equation.

Some 81 per cent of grandparents say they fear for the future happiness of their grandchildren, according to the survey The Australian Seniors Series: Raising Modern Australia. Joanne Orlando, a senior lecturer in early childhood education says the challenges faced by today's children are different from those their parents and grandparents had to confront. The worst thing, she suggests, is that there is a lot of pressure on parents to have successful kids. Everyone knows the family with a child who seems to have extra-curricular activities five nights a week.

The extremes of the parenting debate are adopting "old-fashioned ways" or being a "helicopter parent", always on hand to nurture, oversee and protect. Many would argue it wrong for a child to occasionally be given a smack with a wooden spoon, as was Ms Honeysett's experience.That would be a form of discipline alien to many of today's children. Is it unfair to make a child taste food he or she is rejecting or to put a crying child down in a cot rather than holding her for hours? Ms Honeysett appears to argue that, long-term, neither did her any harm.

A generation ago a child was more likely to be found playing outdoors, climbing a tree, cycling or walking to school. For those reasons knees were more likely to be scraped, arms scratched or fractured and a little bit of dirt swallowed along the way. Doesn't that teach a child to understand boundaries? Kids' television with scheduled programming for young viewers was perhaps the only distraction from children inventing ways to amuse themselves.

Now, at least in a more urban environment, a child would be more likely be ferried to school door-to-door by car. No chance to splash in puddles, catch insects or pat a passing dog. Children are more likely to be preoccupied in the passive occupation presented by digital media, whether it be texting or accessing a limitless catalogue of music or video or games available 24/7.

We believe that most child psychologists would agree with the tenet that all things are good in moderation. A child should be allowed to be a child and not exposed to unnecessary external influences that hasten the already rapid transition to adulthood. A broad range of experience is healthy. The arts, physical exercise, team endeavours and unmonitored imaginative play all have an important role in the increasingly over-busy schedule of children today.

There's a time for discipline and a time for saying nothing. No one style of parenting can be regarded as right or wrong. The solution for nurturing a well-balanced child lies somewhere between the two, even if there are some raised eyebrows from grandparents along the way.

This article originally appeared on the SMH.