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Kid Nation.  Really.
by Mark Penn and Kinney Zalesne
Authors of Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes

Mommy Nature's Preschool Blog

Everyone knows there have been big changes regarding American parents in the last several decades.  Single Moms now number 10.4 million, up from 3.4 million in 1970.  There are nearly 150,000 Stay-at-Home Dads -- a jump of almost 50 percent since 2003.  About 150,000 kids are being raised by gay couples.
And there are newer parenting trends, too -- like Old New Dads (1 in 18 kids today are born to men over 50); kids being raised by Commuter Couples (one parent at home during the workweek, two there on weekends); and kids spending more and more time with Modern Mary Poppinses -- college-educated nannies, who are expected to reflect a bit on Shakespeare, while also making the PB&J.
But there is an even bigger change happening on the landscape of American parenting, and it’s not about the gender, age, or marital status of the parents, or their employees.  It’s about the children themselves. Because these days in America, perhaps more so than ever in history, it is the kids who are calling the shots.
It starts in those infant nights.  For the first half of the 20th century, pediatricians told parents to keep their children on strict sleep schedules, even if it meant having to let them “cry it out” in the middle of the night.  In the 1950s, the guru Dr. Spock was called “permissive” for even suggesting that sometimes, it was all right to go in and comfort the child -- although in later versions of his book, he, too, said it was best to let them cry it out.  But now?  According to our research, fully 66 percent of Moms believe that “babies should be comforted whenever they cry,” compared to only 30 percent who think that “babies should be allowed to cry it out so they’ll learn to sleep.”  (Even Dr. Richard Ferber, whose name has become synonymous with letting babies cry it out, went to great pains in the 2006 edition of his book, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition, to say that he never actually used that term, and that what he advocates is “progressive waiting.”)
Okay.  But when it comes to kids and sleep, our entire national center of gravity has moved to the left of even Dr. Spock, who was called permissive in his day.  This is not only a sea change in infant care; it’s an enormous shift in Moms’ expectations for themselves.
Moreover, as the kids get older, it is their impulses that continue to prevail.  Two generations ago, if parents noticed that their kids favored their left hands, they probably did whatever they could to switch them.  Countries like China were notoriously aggressive about such “hand reorientation,” but it was mainstream in the U.S. , too.  (Ronald Reagan, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig were all lefty kids forced to switch.)  But these days, our entire orientation of what it means to be different has shifted.  If anything, being a little unusual has become almost a badge of honor -- hey, maybe my southpaw will grow up to be Albert Einstein, or Michelangelo, or Paul McCartney.  The result is that in the last two generations, the percentage of left-handed people in the U.S. has doubled.  And the reason is that parents now celebrate kids’ individuality, instead of pressing for their conformity.
And for tweens and teens, it’s the same.  Parents today almost never hit their kids, even for serious offenses like drug use.  (From near-universal approval of corporal punishment in 1968, it’s now approved by only about 65 percent of Americans.  You’d be hard pressed to think of another social trend that has fallen so far so fast.) No, today, “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” has been replaced by “Have a Good Heart-to-Heart Talk.”
As a result of all this -- well, respect -- kids these days are branching out in some very individualist directions.  One and a half million children have told their parents they will no longer eat meat.  About the same number of teens make money, in their own businesses, on the Internet.  And perhaps more curiously, one percent of California teens say they want to grow up to be a sniper.
The jury’s still out on whether all this child-centeredness and greater permissiveness will turn out stronger citizens, or just less obedient ones.  At a minimum, it seems to be good for parent-child relationships -- whereas in the old days, “growing up” was synonymous with rebelling against your parents, today’s young people say their parents are their heroes.  But if you’re completely exhausted -- or if you have the distinct sense that parenting today is harder than it used to be -- the Reign of the Child is probably why.
Mark Penn and Kinney Zalesne
are the authors of the new bestselling book, Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes (Twelve, 2007).

You can learn how to discover new microtrends at

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