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Sound Off: Modern Parenting

Northwestern professors weigh in on how parenthood has changed in the past generation — and the advantages and drawbacks of 21st-century parenting.

Fall 2019
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How has parenthood changed in the past generation, and what are the advantages or drawbacks of 21st-century parenting?

Matthias Doepke, professor of economics and father of three

northwestern professor mathhias doepkeParents on average now spend almost twice as much time on parenting — interacting with their kids — compared to a generation ago, even though the number of kids has gone down.

Our interpretation is that a lot of this more intense parenting is a reaction to rising economic inequality. Parents react by trying harder to give their kids the best shot in this more competitive environment.

There are clear downsides to these developments. We have more issues with anxiety and stressed parents and children alike. This intense parenting is also expensive and something you have to be able to afford. Not everyone can keep up, so that parenting is becoming more unequal.

However, there is some upside, because now parents and children often have emotionally closer relationships than in earlier times.

Shelly Vaziri Flais ’95, ’99 MD, ’02 GME, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and mother of four

northwestern professor shelly vaziri flaisDespite awareness in the last couple of years about overparenting, helicopter parenting and lawnmower parenting, the tendency is to be overly involved in our children’s lives even as they get older. We as parents need to be self-aware and not swoop in and solve all our kids’ problems for them. We often err on the side of doing too much.

There’s no greater gift that you can give your children than the tools and resilience to navigate their future lives.

Alexandra Solomon ’98 MA, ’02 PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychology, clinical psychologist at the Family Institute and mother of two

northwestern professor alexandra solomonThere are more teens struggling with more significant mental health problems now than a generation ago. There are also more kids dealing with chronic conditions: food allergies, asthma, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD.

Parents should not feel ashamed about or resistant to asking for help. Parenting is hard enough in the modern era, but when a child is facing additional challenges, having a therapist who’s just there to support the couple can help a lot.

Craig Garfield, professor of pediatrics and medical social sciences and father of two

northwestern professor craig garfieldFrom 1965 to the present, the amount of time that dads are involved in fathering has more than doubled. When there’s more equity at home, it leads to more fulfilled parents. And children thrive when parents thrive.

There may be two things driving this increase. One is a societal expectation. And there has been a shift in perspectives in that men look forward to and want to be involved.

Have a “Sound Off” question you’d like answered? Email us at magazine@northwestern.edu.

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Reader Responses

  • I'm curious why kids are struggling with more mental illness, allergies, ADHD, etc.
    Is that environmental or genetic evolution or other?

    Bernice Tsai ’01 MBA, New York City, via Northwestern Magazine

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