Generation X as Parents: Wildly Overprotective


Photo Credit:  Pak Gwei
Generation X’er are definitely over-protective when it comes to their kids. But do they give a damn about anyone else’s kids?

This interesting article in MSN by Susan Gregory Thomas describes parent’s attitudes today. The article makes some great points about the nature of Generation X’ers of parents, but I think it misses the marks in regards to their children.

A couple particularly good quotes:

“Generation X parents seem to have mistaken emotional ‘enmeshment’ for ‘attachment parenting,’”

and

“Our parents, the Boomers, didn’t pay so much attention to us — they were getting divorced and working and respecting independence, so they left us a lot of times to Scooby Doo,” says Calhoun. “But we’re going a bit far in the other direction and paying so much attention that we’re picking up on every blip in our kids’ whims.”

(note that many parents of Gen X’ers were actually of the Silent generation born 1925-1942)

But this one totally misses the point:

As for today’s little kids? “No one will want to hire them,” says Brody. That’s not an encouraging thought, especially in these economic times.

The kids described in the article are the generation AFTER the Millennials (born 1981-200?), tentatively known as “Homelanders” (born after 2003 or so). They are likely to follow in the footsteps of the Silent Generation by becoming conformist young adults. How is this possible? Consider that most Gen X parents are not particularly permissive with their children. They often enforce strict rules and boundaries for thier kids inside and outside the home. But Gen X parents don’t really care what society thinks about their parenting or whether their kids obey society’s rules.  So the kids get two messages: my parents will protect me from the outside world as long as I follow their rules (and they will be there to enforce them).

The message that Gen X’ers give their kids is, “Follow MY rules and there will be a good outcome”. Once translated into an adult mentality (in the Homelanders) that sounds a lot like a recipe for conformity (“Follow the BOSS’s rules and there will be a good outcome”). I think that some of the psych’s interviewed are confusing the permissiveness of the Silents and Boomers with the “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks” of the X’ers. Just because we don’t care whether Johnny takes away your kid’s toy, doesn’t mean we are permissive: it means we don’t give a damn about YOUR kid.

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  1. #1 by Susan*5 on May 9, 2009 - 1:38 pm

    Interesting article. The point was made that this rudeness may be more of a reflection of todays society in general, and I tend to agree. I am horrified at the thought of what messages go out to children who watch a show like Survivor.
    However, I think what is also at work may be economics or a spin on Maslow’s heirarchy of needs – where “sharing” comes after food, shelter, safety, etc. I think that in smaller communities or neighborhoods you can get parents who treat their kids (and other parents) with respect – but I don’t think this extends out to strangers.
    My experience, as an older X, I was raised by Silents, and I raised my kid to be polite and considerate – I thought I was just doing the basics – but then people would comment to me on how “weirdly” polite and well-behaved she was. It takes a lot of time and energy – it took me ages to teach her at age 2, to not just walk up to a kid and rip a toy out of their hands – maybe some of these parents are so burned out they can’t summon up the initiative.
    The article also mentioned some of the parents who are always going up against institutions and “ferociously advocating” for their child – maybe we just don’t like the way these institutions have been set up (by boomers perhaps?).
    Personally, I am infuriated with the public school system and it’s policies such as “whole language”, lax discipline, extreme inclusion. For example, I have talked to many parents with well-behaved, intelligent kids who are “assigned” by the teacher to care for a child with behavioral/developmental needs – I think this is asking too much of a 7-11 year old – and if they are doing this work because otherwise the teacher can’t cope with the class, then they should be PAID for this work. Another example, a fetal drug syndrome kid who was SUPPOSED to be monitored constantly, shoved and hit my kid – hard – 3 times – in grade 2; this would always happen at lunch because they wouldn’t pay for him to be watched at lunch. When I complained (which I did quite quietly and politely – maybe that was my mistake) I was told that I was the problem, and why was I complaining about my child getting hurt – no one else was, and why was I making such a fuss about it (?!?) – oh, and this one was good – that there was something WRONG with my kid because she had complained about it !!!! You know, I have a really long fuse, but looking back on this now, I can see how this would cause a lot of parents to become ferocious in their approach. Maybe parents feel they have to become advocates because they don’t like the way that society is treating kids – maybe this is a sign of an era of great change.
    Or maybe, what boomers would have done would have been to form a support group, or a committee, or make a petition, but X’s tend to go it alone – so we seem more strident and selfish when we advocate for change.

    • #2 by Dave Sohigian on May 9, 2009 - 2:32 pm

      @Susan*5 – Agreed on all counts. The institutions (set up by Silents and Boomers) are not trusted by Gen X’ers because they failed us so miserably in our young adulthood (and childhood as well for many late Gen X’ers). Although institutions complain about the way that Gen X parents act, the reality is that many of them need to be held accountable. So the forceful nature of Gen X’ers as advocates is both in reaction to our upbringing and the way that we are still treated by institutions. I think many institutions (schools in particular) feel rather embattled at this point because of the Gen X parents. The bad news is that it is only going to get worse. The proportion of Gen X to Boomer parents is increasing and will hit it’s peak with the kids in kindergarten or pre-school right now. That means a lot of confrontations if schools don’t properly prepare for this demanding bunch. And preparation goes beyond just “dealing with parents” and gets at the heart of what we expect from our schools. If they are not meeting the mark, they are going to get hammered.
      Consider the examples in your comment. Parents of bright young kids teaching with developmental challenges. Parents of both groups of kids are bound to be upset about this situation. Same with the kid that hit yours: I am sure the parent of that child would be upset that it was not properly dealt with, but for different reasons than you. Gen X is “more strident and selfish” and institutions need to figure out how to meet that.

    • #3 by Elisabeth on June 25, 2011 - 4:03 am

      Awesome points. I am also an older X and all I've heard about our generation is that we're unmotivated slackers? Really? I can't think of anyone my age that fits that mold and I'd like to note that my peers are raising responsible kids who are polite who will hopefully be self reliant.

      I work with great college aged students but there are a lot of hovering baby boomer parents holding them back from growing up. Our children are not a trophy, but unique human beings who should be nurtured and encouraged, but not coddled. Ironic that we're getting maligned for when we were born as well as for our goal to raise responsible children who will contribute to society. I don't want my children to be reality TV stars.

  2. #4 by cia007 on May 10, 2009 - 7:50 pm

    I agree that they missed the mark on Gen X with this article. A very good commentary.
    I am Gen X, born to Silent Parents. I heard in a recent course I took someone erroneously attribute
    Millennial behavior to “Gen-X Helecopter Parents.” All the Millennials I know have Boomer parents,
    and all those “Baby on Board” signs that announced their arrival I knew to be Boomers driving
    the vehicles. I think a lot of this discussion about Gen-X is relating to the usual “scapegoating” by
    the other generations that just continues. I actually think the Boomers are a large part of the
    issue here with the kids. Many Boomers who were for free love, etc. are now also overprotective
    of their kids. I think Gen X is protective in different ways. Every X’er parent I know is more about
    seeking opportunities for experiences that involve family, rather than focusing on protecting their
    kids. I see no mention of Gen X and the need for family here. This is where I think the article
    quoted misses the mark. I also think that, especially to the Silents, Gen X does feel “overprotective”…
    after all, they were the ones that raised us latchkey kids! I think the Boomers are not caring
    so much about the kids now, that they are focusing on retirement nest-eggs. While they are fading
    in society, they still hold a very dominant presence over all generational groups.

    • #5 by Dave Sohigian on May 11, 2009 - 9:57 am

      @cia007 – I think you hit the nail on the head with the comment that “Gen X is protective in different ways” and that Gen X is again being scapegoated (that is part of our generational role). But I can also say that Gen X parents tend to be very challenging for schools to manage because they can be so demanding. How to balance the requests of individual parents and the needs in the classroom is a tough puzzle. And it’s one that schools need to figure out because the next generation (tentatively called the “Homelander” generation, born after about 2003) will have predominantly Gen X parents. Thanks for your comment!

  3. #6 by Hana on May 11, 2009 - 10:53 am

    What is upsetting to me is that many younger kids that I run into have no respect for the people they interact with or their parents. It amazes me to hear and see how selfish today’s kids are. I know that when I was growing up I was a bit of a brat my self but I was always disciplined. My parents never let me get a way with any thing. One main thing I learned from them is to think of others and not just you’re self. Unfortunately I think that has been a lesson of less importance to teach kids.
    Maybe it’s because some parents can not deal with there children whining and complaining if they don’t get their way. One thing that is much different from other generations is that these kids have so much stuff and they can’t get enough of the brats or Tonka trucks. They have been marketed to by the media and some parents just can’t say no to what there kids want. So the parents do what is right, make the kid happy. This is the next age of Veruca Salt’s and Augustus Gloop’s. These characters from wilily wonka and the chocolate factory are coming to life. It was all about instant gratification and consumption for these two.
    I do think Brody has a point. If I were running a business I would not want to higher these kids who are self-centered. This is just my view on some kids not all. I’m glad to see that some people still teach there kids manners. I think that, at this time in our world we are going through a lot of change and it will be interesting to see how people deal with all this change and how the kids will turn out in there adult hood.

  4. #7 by Millennial on May 11, 2009 - 12:39 pm

    Every Gen-Xer parent I know is one of those helicopter parents. Way too involved in their kid’s life. There’s got to be a good balance between being a supportive and there for the kid, and also just backing off and letting the kid be a kid.

    • #8 by Dave Sohigian on May 11, 2009 - 12:43 pm

      @Millennial – The helicopter stuff is going to get worse before it gets better. Once we are through the crisis then parents will back off a bit, but that is another 15 years or so.

  5. #9 by jenx67 on May 12, 2009 - 1:36 pm

    I could not relate to Susan’s article on the get off my lawn stuff. That’s just not my style and I don’t know any Xers that act that way. Boomers act that way……….in my humble experience.

    What I did agree with were the pull quotes you illustrated. I overparent; overprotect. I’m not a helicopter parent, but in the absence of sufficient boundaries, with the present of neglect, GenX is without intuition, even, on where to draw the line.

    Great commentary, Dave.

    • #10 by Dave Sohigian on May 12, 2009 - 1:42 pm

      @jenx67 – this is just a guess based on what I have read on your blog, but perhaps part of why you have not experienced X’ers with the “get off my lawn” attitude is because of the community (church) you participate in. Our kids go to a Waldorf School where we have a tight community of like-minded people. This gives us a sense of belonging and trust for the other parents and adults around us and makes the sort of friction described in the article less likely. But I think that there are lots of other places in our society where the X’er individualist attitude has broken down community. And I agree that because of our upbringing we have trouble knowing where to draw the line.

  6. #11 by Brieze on May 12, 2009 - 9:24 pm

    The title of this post caught my eye, I guess because I have been raised by my genX mother. I have never really taken the time to think about it in this way, but now that it’s all laid out for me, it makes perfect sense. I have always loved those parents who seem to adopt their kid’s friends as their own. This is not a description of my mother. I don’t think I have ever had a friend who she would go out of her way for. But when it comes to me, she would do almost anything. On a slightly different note, I have been raised by my mother– this is to say that what she says goes. I don’t have much say in the matter. She loves to hear about my friends and I, perhaps to live vicariously through me. She just laughs and shakes her head when the troublesome story is about someone else, but the second I do something that she would consider “bad”, she becomes very concerned and angry. I have often heard the words “I don’t care what they do, they’re not my kid. No, Brieze, you may not go…”. I find this particularly frustrating. I’ve always thought this to be a personal flaw of my mother’s, but after reading your post, I’ve come to accept it as a generational flaw, or rather a trend. I’ll try not to take her protectiveness so personally.

    • #12 by Dave Sohigian on May 13, 2009 - 8:40 am

      @Brieze – It is really cool that you were able to get some insights into your Mom through the generational research. I have had the same experience of being able to more fully understand some people’s motivations when taken in light of generations. It doesn’t explain everything (20 years of people include lots of variations) but it can help in putting context around different people’s actions. And yes, us Gen X’ers are a protective bunch (but as you note, it is for a good reason, or at least deeply held beliefs). Thanks for your comment.

  7. #13 by Phillipe Holmstrom on May 13, 2009 - 5:34 pm

    I thought it was interesting that you proposed that the children of the Gen X (Millenials) would be similar to the Silent Gen and be conformist, submissive and passive. It seems that if the Gen X generation are enforcing/ imposing so many strict rules upon their children, that their children will want to break away from the rigidity of their parents rules and become rebellious and free thinking. It seems that if my parents impose too many rules, their children will want to break them just for the sake of breaking them. Anyways, this is just my personal opinion and probably does not reflect what the generational cycle hints at.

    • #14 by Dave Sohigian on May 13, 2009 - 6:13 pm

      @Phillipe – I think that the generation raised by Gen X, which might be called the Homelanders, will probably be rule-followers in young adulthood, but that does not mean they will always be conformist. The Silent generation (born 1925-1942) was considered extremely obedient and conformist in young adulthood. They got the name “Silent” from a Time article in the early 1950′s. But by the time the 60′s rolled around, it became difficult to characterize them as Silent, with members like Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, MLK, Mohammed Ali, RFK and Abbie Hoffman as part of the cohort. So I think they will rebel, but probably later on in life once things are safer to do so. During the Crisis they will probably keep their heads down because they know it is important for everyone’s survival but they will likely be instigators of the next Awakening in 40 years.

  8. #15 by Alex Costa on May 15, 2009 - 3:07 am

    I think that as new generations come around and times change that people begin to incorporate fear into parenting. For example kids not allowed to go play in the park past 6:00 PM because of the fear of someone taking their kids or killing them. This really correlates to the fact that parents are becoming more and more afraid that something is going to happen to their child. They think that if they act the way you described in the article that it will somehow make their child more safe.

    I feel that kids these days are less respectful towards their parents and elders because of it. They feel like if they can be yelled at and smacked that somehow its alright for them to act the same way towards everyone else.

    • #16 by dsohigian on May 15, 2009 - 4:36 pm

      @Alex – I agree that the level of fear in parenting is ridiculous. I am the parent of two young children (ages 8 and 12) and I am constantly amazed at the actions of some of my fellow parents when it comes to child safety. But at the same time many parents are strict disciplinarians with their kids. So it is a strange combination. I think that the effects of this parenting style will show up in the next generation (born after 2003) because they will have primarily Generation X parents.

  9. #17 by susan*5 on May 20, 2009 - 5:39 pm

    I didn't go into much detail in my post on education problems because I didn't want to take up too much space; however, I feel compelled to point out that certain policies, such as extreme inclusion, are bad for everyone not just "my kid" (however, I was addressing an example of a time when I took on an institution for my kid); I have had over 10 teachers privately tell me that they cannot possibly teach effectively while they are required to have a special needs or behaviour problem child in their class – that means that ALL the kids in the class will not be learning; I strongly feel that special needs or behaviour disordered kids are much better served by a separate school with highly trained staff – I worked at a school where there was a neighbouring school that had served special needs kids or those with behavioral problems – because of budget cuts, they were being moved into the regular high school – many of these students were quite vocal that they did NOT want to be integrated – that they preferred there separate facilities; inclusion lets the government off the hook for paying for highly trained special ed teachers and specialized equipment – they throw the special needs kids into a general school and hope for the best – I know that in my school there was no extra money for equipment/supplies or even books geared to their level – so they were not getting the education and stimulation that they required either.
    Finally, these moves are often made to save the government money – the same reason why so many mental patients (I used to work beside a major mental hospital too) are released to their own "freedom" which often means they end up homeless or the victims of crimes. I knew a family friend who had been highly trained as a special ed teacher – and they were well paid too – but now the government isn't required to have these teachers. – they didn't lose their job, but I am concerned that these highly skilled individuals are being replaced by high school graduates with first aid and non-violent crisis intervention certificates.
    I know of many great teachers who are ditching the profession altogether because they don't want to have to deal with these circumstances – some of the kids being "included" are huge 22 year olds with normal intelligence who have been in and out of prison on violent offences – that means again that ALL students lose as these talented teachers are no longer available. I don't think that are schools should become merely "warehouses" that contain young people .
    I knew that someone would object to my criticizing inclusion – anyone who criticizes this policy is branded as someone who doesn't care about people with mental/physical disabilities – but I am saying it anyway, because it needs to be said because it simply isn't working. I notice no one took me up on my criticism of "whole language" which has led to a generation that can't spell. I could also go on and on about how schools waste time having kids watch feature films, and how every assignment has the choice of being done as a "colourful poster" , how kids are bored because they aren't being challenged enough, but this post is long enough already.

  10. #18 by dsohigian on May 20, 2009 - 5:49 pm

    Being a teacher right now is probably tougher than any time since the 1930's. Although Gen X'ers were lots of trouble for teachers when we were kids, we are proving to be even more problematic as parents. The policies of \”No Child Left Behind\”, put in place by Boomers and Silents add to the difficulty (and perhaps some of the problems with \”inclusion\” that you mention). Education is, and always has been, the key to the American future and, like the rest of our society, it is in crisis right now.

  11. #19 by Stevie on June 16, 2009 - 9:53 pm

    Got a little lost in this post and in the discussion. I'd venture to say that the attitude extends to friends children. As in treating them like one's own children.

    As for schools. They suck so bad, why bother sending them. The Xers i know homeschool. The follow the "bosses" rules is interesting idea too, because the boss is Mum & Dad. So they won't be following the teacher or the boss. They will still be guided by their parents? Maybe?

    I didn't read the source article from MSN. But it seems like it contained a bunch of malarkey anyway.

    And what happened to the Indigo Children. The homelanders… that is a stupid name. I might have to stop with the generational interest.. Can we sign a petition or something?

    • #20 by dsohigian on June 16, 2009 - 10:24 pm

      @Stevie – I agree Homelanders may not be the right name, but I sure hope that Indigo doesn't stick (I am not a fan of the ideas about Indigo Child). And yes, many Gen X parents homeschool or send their kids to private schools (Waldorf school in our case).

      The friends children (extended family) is a concept I can buy into, but often the Gen X circle of close friends is very small.

  12. #21 by phil on August 30, 2009 - 12:17 am

    Let's be honest. These kids are robots. Mind numbed. Not too bright. You know as well as the rest of us, that they were raised to follow the crowd. Look at me!! I'm different!!! I just happen to look and talk like everyone else in my generation.

  13. #22 by Lalo on November 29, 2009 - 3:45 am

    I am a genX. I homeschool. I believe in only myself – an independent – to be responsible for my child's education. I expect my child to grow up working HARD, playing hard & taking risks. I expect her to have to fight for her place in the world. I don't coddle her like silly boomers who boosted the "self esteem" of genY. Self esteem is false. Being able to stand on your own & tackle any challenge the world throws your way doesn't leave any time for contemplating "self esteem." My child's busy. I allow boredom & time to explore & play. What I find is that my compatriots are spending more time with their kids & rejecting traditional schooling and parenting ideas for their own, which to some may seem "controlling." This may seem so superficially. Iam wary of & reject the establishment. Not just for rejections sake, but because I don't want anyone else telling me what to do or how to live my life. I don't need some authority telling me how to school my child. Our family unit is the priority. Most genXers seem to have a deep concern for the world their kids are headed into & entertain no illusions that it will be a picnic.

    • #23 by dsohigian on November 30, 2009 - 10:58 pm

      @Lalo – Thanks for the comment. Your approach is very Generation X: take matters into your own hands because the establishment is bound to fail you. And I agree that the world our kids are headed into won't be a picnic (at least for the next 10-15 years). The challenge is that the message we give our kids often gives the opposite results. It is likely that our generation's kids (mostly Millennials and Homelanders) will be very different than us, particularly in their feelings towards institutions and group-think. We are individualists and would hope to instill that in our children, but the world they will encounter once they leave our care will REQUIRE group action and trust in institutions, much like the GI Generation encountered leading up to WWII.

  14. #24 by Mardi on June 19, 2010 - 10:44 pm

    Oh absolutely! I homeschool too and am an Gen X parent.

  15. #25 by il_maestro on October 30, 2011 - 9:19 am

    A few teachers and I were discussing Gen X parents today during lunch. Our main concern is that Gen X parents are raising children who will not be able to fend for themselves in the real world once they leave the nest. Their parents have been so involved in every aspect of their lives, that students don't know how to advocate for themselves. And while they may not know how to advocate for themselves, they are learning that they are entitled to special treatment and/or consideration. For example, the 16 year old, home schooled stuttering college student and his mother who unfairly accused his professor of discrimination. Who called the New York Times and made the story front page news? It was not the college or the professor. Later, the stuttering student "felt bad" that he had ruined this professors reputation, but the damage was done. I don't think that he nor his mother thought of the repercussions of their statement and actions. Again, typical Gen X behavior: Lack of respect for authority.

    In all honesty, I'm also a Gen X'er. The more I read about Gen X'ers, the more I identify with the facts about my generation. But I find that the majority of Gen X'ers cannot come to terms with the truth regarding our generation. The do-nothing generation, as we were labeled in the early 90's, are doing too much for their children. We will see the results of their over-parenting in about 20 years, when their children are parents themselves. As I interact daily with over-scheduled and over-burdened students, I get the feeling that the pendulum will swing. I bet that todays kids will let their own children enjoy their childhood. I also believe that the sense of entitlement might fade as the realities and disappointments of the real world teaches them that mom and dad can't get them out of trouble all the time, or into the "right" college, or the corner office at their first job.

    • #26 by dsohigian on October 30, 2011 - 10:04 am

      @il_maestro – great commentary from the trenches. I agree that there will be repercussions from the over-parenting of Gen X'ers, but it may not be what we commonly expect. The children today are part of a new generation (post-Millennial). Starting with the kids in 1st grade or so, we are seeing the next version of the “Silent” generation that grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression and WWII. Much like Gen X's parents (who are mostly part of the Silent) they will grow up in a world that is very orderly and expects them to fall in line and be quiet. They will have their overbearing parents to watch over them through their youth but when they get out into the world they will probably be looking for new authority figures. College professors, much like those back in the early 50's will label them as compliant and focused on the correct path to success.Sadly these kids will probably not make the greatest parents themselves. Like the Silent generation they will pretty much leave kids to fend for themselves, which is what resulted in the attitudes of the Gen X'ers today. The pendulum swings back and forth with over parenting of children leading to adults who want to give their children too much freedom. And thus the cycle continues. I agree with you that awareness of our generation's tendencies is the best antidote to the extremism we often see in our generation. You can't change the generation you were born in, but you can be conscious of how your attitudes are shaped by it.

  16. #27 by sean on December 30, 2012 - 3:42 pm

    when the boomers are dead America will be a better place to live.

    • #28 by James on April 12, 2013 - 9:33 am

      gen x are not much better than the boomers, the best generations ever is gen y, truly the most liberty and freedom loving “live and let live” generation. I can’t wait when we rule the nation.

      • #29 by Dave Sohigian on April 12, 2013 - 3:17 pm

        James – Boomers certainly have their faults, as do X’ers. The point of generational research is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each generation. Millennials (aka Gen Y) are definitely an optimistic generation, but they also have their faults. It is likely that their children will be the first to point that out (and rebel against them) once they come of age (much like the Boomers did to their GI parents). Personally I believe that the Mill’s will create a nation that is focused on social conformity and virtual/online living. That may be appealing for some but there is also lots not to like in that vision.

  17. #30 by Captain Martini on May 3, 2013 - 8:08 am

    The debts and non-productive economies that have been created by the currently-adult generations of the western world will place future adults in a hole they won’t be able to dig themselves out of — no matter how much of a conformist, electronic, social beehive they turn out to be.

    A succession of greedy and powerful GI-ers, Silents, Boomers and Xers moved production into overcrowded Asia. The generations over there don’t share our cute, little, shared identities. They are not “Boomers” or “Xers,” and they don’t have the same characteristics or history. They are on a different track, in a different cycle, and this is not good for us.

    Our generation labeling and analysis, while somewhat accurate for our western world, is really nothing but mutual masturbation. It is unconnected to the rest of the world, where people have lived in poverty and without freedom for a long time. It doesn’t even apply to many Eastern European people who grew up under communist dictators. I know because I married one of those people. She is no more a gen Xer than I am Santa Clause.

    • #31 by Dave Sohigian on May 3, 2013 - 11:27 am

      Yes, there does seem to be a clash of generational cycles in other parts of the world. Neil Howe has discussed that much of Europe is on a similar cycle, but delayed by 5-10 years. The Arab countries seem to be in a completely different rotation (or perhaps a different type of cycle all-together). I am not sure about China.

      But I still find this research valuable in understanding our history and in predicting future trends.

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