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Why Parents Criticize the Parenting Styles of Others

We’ve all heard it.  One parent saying something like, “Do you see the Smiths?  I can’t believe what they let their kids get away with!” or, “I can’t believe how strict they are with their kids!”  Why, in this day and age, are parents so critical of parenting styles that differ from their own?

  • When ours was more of an agrarian society, our population was smaller, it was less concentrated in urban areas, and limited transportation meant that visiting neighbors occurred less frequently. The net result was that we had less contact with the parenting styles of others. If we have less contact with differing parenting styles, we are more likely to be non-responsive to those differences.
  • Again using the agrarian society comparator, people’s lives then were not as jam-packed with a million different activities, all wedged into any one day . . . but, today, our lives are typically just that harried. That’s not to say that life was not busy back then, but it was busy in a different sort of way. People rose early to attend to their jobs (i.e., the crops and livestock or the housework and children). Because of the fact that time- and labor-saving devices that we take for granted today were largely absent back then, the daily tasks were very time-consuming and often involved very physically demanding work. The result was that the people performed their tasks on their homestead from dawn to dusk, at which time they prepared to retire for the day. However, in today’s world, we may be productive for the same number of hours, but we our work tends to be less physically demanding and keeps us running from place to place in a series of time-sensitive appointments. This can create a sense of unrest within us. This unrest can make us feel and be more critical.
  • In our increasingly mercantile society, mass media is, more and more, setting cultural standards for us. We watch television, read magazines, and access other forms of mass media, and we form our paradigms based in part on what we see there. We may see advertisements for all sorts of material goods that happy children have. We want happy children, right? So, maybe we need to have these material goods. Another parent then says we’re spoiling our child. Still another parent, who is either more cash flush or deeper in debt, says that we are not doing enough for our kids, and they cite the things our kids lack. For example, “What kid in this day and age doesn’t have an X-box? It can be educational, recreational, and it can help keep kids physically fit. Plus, these poor kids are estranged from their peers since they are the only ones without an X-box. Why do those parents do that to their kids?”
  • With the advent of telephones, the Internet, social media, etc., we can now have direct but not face-to-face communications with one another. It is easier to criticize someone if you do not have to look that person in the eye while you do it. In fact, the more remote the communication becomes, the easier it is to criticize. For example, it’s easier to post criticism on someone’s wall than it is to criticize by telephone.
  • We are becoming a more sensitized culture. Where once, people accepted or did not speak against a variety of behaviors now considered unacceptable (i.e., spouse abuse, child abuse, and animal abuse), people’s sensitivities are now heightened to these and other issues. We speak out when our sensitivities are offended.

For these reasons, parents today may be more prone to criticize the parenting styles of others.

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