Grandparents believe parenting has deteriorated, fear for the future of their grandchildren

Lynette Honeysett with her son Joel and granddaughter Sophia: parenting has changed over time.
Lynette Honeysett with her son Joel and granddaughter Sophia: parenting has changed over time.  Photo: Wolter Peeters

When Lynette Honeysett was a child in the 1960s, discipline was swift and sometimes harsh.

"We got smacked with a wooden spoon if we were naughty, and it happened on a regular basis," she said. "I can remember copping quite a few hidings."

In contrast, her three-year-old granddaughter Sophia is lavished with affection by her parents rather than bound by strict rules.

"If she didn't like a particular food, they wouldn't make her try it," Ms Honeysett said. "When she cried they would just hold her for hours on end. I'd say 'Put her in a cot, let her settle down', but they'd say 'No mum, we're doing it our way'."

Ms Honeysett, who regularly cares for her granddaughter, also advised her 25-year-old son Joel to avoid being a helicopter parent.

"Let her run, fall over," she said. "If she breaks an arm, she's going to learn a lesson that way."

Ms Honeysett, 57, is not alone in questioning some aspects of modern parenting. A national survey of parenting styles reveals dramatic changes in how children are raised in Australia, and not always for the better according to grandparents.

A majority of grandparents surveyed in The Australian Seniors Series: Raising Modern Australia believe children are doomed because of modern parenting styles, with 81 per cent fearing for the future happiness of their grandchildren.

The survey of 1000 grandparents also found nearly three in five believe parenting styles have become somewhat or considerably worse since they were raising children.


More than half believe their grandchildren will be much less capable, self-sufficient, resilient, disciplined and have much less moral character.

"They also believe their grandchildren will be negatively impacted by the praise and reward-inspired culture that exists today," the survey said. 

The survey also found parents believe grandparents waved off concerns about dietary requirements and personal safety for children too easily.

Ms Honeysett said she believed parents paid too much attention to their smartphones when they were with their children: "It's a particular bugbear of mine. I say to Joel 'Get off your phone'."

But she was pleased with the amount of time Joel spent with his daughter: "Even when I raised children, a lot of men still hung back. I think it's great fathers are a lot more involved now from the get-go."

Joel said he had always felt overprotective towards his daughter: "She's always been so small and precious that I've wanted to take care of her and protect her." 

A fly-in, fly-out mine worker, Joel said he was keen to spend time with Sophia given his lengthy absences due to work.

"I would rather sit there with my daughter and play dolls if that's what she wants to do," he said. "It probably has something to do with my father because he wasn't around when I was a kid."

Despite her concerns about modern parenting, Ms Honeysett is not nostalgic about her own childhood in the 1960s as the third of four daughters raised by a strict mother.

"I swore black and blue I was never going to raise children the way I was raised because I just thought it was an archaic way of doing things," she said.

Ms Honeysett said she was very strict when it came to instilling manners and "old-fashioned values" in her children as well as important life skills: "My son is a great cook. Joel can keep a great house. He cooks, cleans and irons." 

But she shied away from smacking, preferring to discipline her children by withdrawing privileges such as computer games.

"They had a lot of hand-me-downs, which I'm sure they hated," she said. "They had to wait and save up money for toys. They didn't get things because they wanted them."

Joanne Orlando, a senior lecturer in early childhood education at Western Sydney University, said shifts in parenting styles reflected changes in society as well as research about parent-child relationship and parenting styles. 

Dr Orlando said childhood had changed a lot since the 1950s – the challenges Sophia will face are different from what her father and grandmother could have expected.

"Parenting is not about pleasing other adults, it's about really thinking about what your child needs and how to ensure they are happy, well balanced and feel loved," she said.

She believed parenting had improved because "we actually value children more".

"We listen to them, value their ideas, we don't treat children like second-class citizens any more – and that's a good thing for parents and children," she said. "The worst thing is that there is a lot of pressure on parents to have successful kids.

"Parents often feel pressure to send kids to lots of after-school activities, classes on the weekend, the best clothes, every new toy, designer birthday parties. We are not better parents if our focus is on buying them everything."