Millennials Think They’re Better Parents Than Previous Generations, Says New Study

Millennial parents are placing more of an emphasis on gentle parenting and mental health, according to a recent survey from Lurie Children’s Hospital.



Fact checked by Sarah Scott

Every generation of parents typically tries to copy what their own parents did well, and flip the parenting techniques that they didn’t enjoy being raised with. A new survey from Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago shows that Millennials are no exception—and 73% think their parenting style is better than the style previous generations had.

Of the 1,000 Millennial parents (those born between 1981 and 1996) who took the survey, 88% felt they parented differently than their own parents did. The biggest difference in how they parent compared to their predecessors is that Millennials place a much larger focus on open communication, especially around mental health.

“They’re trying to parent in a way that sets their children up to have the healthiest views of mental health,” says Miller Shivers, PhD, a staff psychologist at Lurie Children’s. “Parents before that didn't think about it so much. There's much more awareness now about mental health and people trying to do things to enhance or support their mental health.”

Eighty percent of Millennial parents said talking to their kids about mental health and emotional well-being is very important for helping their child's development, and 98% do talk to their kids about mental health. In contrast, 2 in 3 said their own parents never talked to them about mental health when they were growing up.

The second biggest way Millennials feel their parenting style is different from past generations is that they place more of an emphasis on helping their children develop emotional intelligence. For example, parents today are more likely to talk to a child about their emotions and help them identify what they’re feeling, Dr. Shivers says.

Part of the reason parenting styles today are different than they were a few decades ago is that the environments we’re parenting in have changed. Take, for instance, social media. But that’s not always a positive thing. Parenting influencers have become common, and they often give advice that isn’t based on research. Yet, about 1 in 4 Millennial parents don’t verify the advice they get from social media.

Social media also puts a lot of pressure on parents. Eighty-five percent of Millennial parents believe that social media gives rise to unrealistic parenting expectations. And yet 30% of Millennial moms report comparing their success as a parent to others on social media. This game of comparison is one reason why 63% of Millennial parents report being too hard on themselves.

“We need to not be so hard on ourselves,” says Sarah Ockwell-Smith, child care author and parenting expert, pointing to various stressors Millennial parents face.

The top five challenges they report facing include stress, finances, raising children in a digital age, parenting guilt, and balancing work and parenting life.

Millennial Parents Are Trying Gentle Parenting

One of the most striking findings from the survey is that 74% of Millennial parents report practicing gentle parenting, a parenting style that has blown up in the past several years on social media.

There’s no standard definition of what gentle parenting is. But Ockwell-Smith, who is credited with introducing the term about 15 years ago, says, “It's about working through what you went through as a child so that you can be calm and be a good role model. It's about having a balance of control between you and the child. When it's necessary, you step in as an adult. And when it's possible, the kids have control. It's about having respect for kids.”

However, there’s no way that nearly 3 in 4 Millennial parents are practicing gentle parenting, she says. “I think most people have no idea what it is.” In fact, she estimates that less than 5% are actually practicing it.

Rather, the surveyed parents may think they’re practicing gentle parenting. But many of them have gotten their information on it from social media, and watching a few TikToks from non-expert influencers isn’t enough to become a gentle parent, she says.

Becoming a gentle parent is a noble goal, though, and it makes sense that Millennials would want to based on how they were raised. But to understand this, you have to understand the three main parenting styles.

Gentle parenting is a subtype of authoritative parenting, which is accepted as the healthiest of the three core parenting styles.

The second is authoritarian parenting, in which the parent has almost complete control over the child, often expects too much of them, and leans into punishment. Many Millennials were raised under this style, and they turn away from it because of the damage they feel it did to them.

The third is permissive parenting, in which the children have almost all of the control, and there are few consequences for bad behavior.

When Millennials who were raised under authoritarian parenting have their own kids, they often overcorrect and become permissive parents rather than hitting the sweet spot of authoritative parenting. “They’re so terrified of repeating the cycle and damaging their children that they slip into permissive parenting,” Ockwell-Smith says.

Many people who say that they practice gentle parenting are actually practicing permissive parenting, Dr. Shivers adds, because they’re confused about what gentle parenting is.

If a child is upset and doesn’t want to go to school because they’ll miss their parent, for example, a permissive parent may allow the child to stay home to protect their feelings. They may think this is gentle parenting. But a gentle parent would help the child overcome the obstacle and make a plan with the school to support the child when they’re homesick or lonely.

“Parents get confused about it. They think they're not supposed to set limits or have rules with their children,” Dr. Shivers says. “It leads to a lot of overlooking bad behavior.”

But again, Millennial parents are facing many challenges.

“We are literally breaking so many different cycles and dealing with so much,” says Ockwell-Smith. “You've got things like climate change and the threat of World War III and dealing with racism and LGBTQ+ issues.”

It’s a lot to deal with, so parents should cut themselves some slack.

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