Parental theory has undergone a paradigmatic shift in the last half century or so. Older baby-boomers in particular bear witness to the wide pendulum swing in our society’s prevailing opinion concerning acceptable parental expectations for children.
Older Americans remember maxims of the bygone era to the effect that children were “to be seen and not heard,” and were “not to speak [to an adult] unless spoken to,” and then only with deference and respect. In stark contrast, the prevailing persuasion of our times is that children are to speak whenever they wish, and to say just about whatever they want, whenever they choose to say it.
Some will remember a day when calling one’s parents by their first names was to risk great bodily harm. I remember the braggadocio of the bravest rebels of my peer group who dared, in a moment of unbridled irreverence, to launch such a sortie against parental authority. But today, increasing numbers of parents invite such first-name familiarity as an expression of their freedom from the dictates of authoritarianism.
In the older era, parents tended to unabashedly make decisions for their children. They set firm rules and enforced them—often harshly by today’s standards. They regularly told their children “No,” and suffered little embarrassment from doing so.
With rare exception, parents are not wound nearly so tight these days. The prevailing culture encourages parents to regularly defer to their children’s opinion, to withhold as little as possible, to keep rules to a scant minimum, and to specialize in overlooking or downplaying infractions. Children may be taught good manners, but only by way of gentle suggestion. Parents have generally evolved past the primitive days of asserting and enforcing strict standards of behavior for their children.