Consciously articulated parenting strategies stunt your kid's growth
Those 1983 issues of Parents magazine may have been a pleasant trip down memory lane, but I can't say the same for the 1989 issues that I just looked through. Something clearly went wrong starting with the Millennials, but did it begin in elementary school or even earlier? It looks like helicopter parenting began sometime in the late '80s, although only for very young children, like toddlers or younger. That would explain the birth years that did and did not lead to Millennial traits (I'd include '85 and '86 births, but definitely from '87 onward).
Many things leap out as different between the two years -- most strikingly, the obsession with safety in '89 that gets cursory treatment in '83. But they're all the kind of things you would expect from helicopter parents, and not worth discussing in detail.
However, one major shift that I didn't anticipate really sheds light on how easy it is to mess your kids up socially and emotionally. The '83 issues have almost no bullet-point lists of Do's and Don'ts -- bulleted lists are rare overall, and when they do occur, they're more like hints, suggestions, guidelines, etc., to try out and judge for yourself in your own sticky situation. By '89, they're more common, more specific, and more mandatory about Do this / Don't do that.
So, parents of infants and toddlers in '83 were flying more on intuition, while their counterparts in '89 were rationally formulating explicit check-lists or blueprints.
How did that affect their kids once they got out into the real world? Well, your kid's peers, no matter what stage they're in, are not consciously forming check-lists of Do this / Don't do that when interacting with your kid. They're going purely by intuition -- smile if your kid makes a genuinely funny joke, shove him down if he's acting like a selfish brat.
Maybe the kid's teachers will have a Do this / Don't do that approach, but more or less everyone he meets out in the real world will be reacting from intuition. To prepare him the best for adapting to real life, then, you should give him plenty of experience early on with interactions that are intuitive rather than having clear rules (even if they're unspoken to the child). I mean, that's how every parent in the world ever raised their kid before Dr. Spock and Dr. Phil, and somehow homo sapiens has avoided mass extinction.
Instead, if you have precise rules for interacting with your kid (unspoken or not), once he goes out into the real world, he'll take an almost OCD approach to interacting with his peers. Wait a minute -- you didn't explain why you do or do not want to be my friend ("I dunno, just cuz I don't like you"). Wait a minute -- you followed one rule in a situation, and then a different rule in that same situation -- you're being logically inconsistent! ("Yeah well I changed my mind, life isn't fair.")
By only giving him practice with rigidly consistent rules of interaction, the fuzzy and up-for-grabs nature of real socializing will throw him for a loop. He will be so inflexible and irritated that no one will want to be his close friend, i.e. someone they'd trust deep down, not just play Modern Warfare with online.
So in fact, you should not strive for consistency in rewarding, punishing, or interacting otherwise with your kids -- his peers sure won't be, and he has to get familiar and even comfortable with that early on so he can hit the social ground running. Again, caveman parents didn't strive for consistency in parenting, yet somehow we're still here and indeed have taken over more of the globe than they could have dreamed of.
Spastic parents will try to frame this as supporting total unpredictability and chaos, but nobody is retarded enough to act that way. Going on intuition does not lead to unpredictability or chaos -- just a fuzzy spectrum of responses to your kid's behavior, a distribution with variance (like a bell curve), rather than a perfectly predictable single response.
The manageable stress of not knowing precisely how the parent will respond causes the kid to develop social and emotional skills that can at least anticipate the probable range of responses, giving up the fool's game of guessing exactly how someone will respond, and to grow thick skin. Otherwise they wind up thin-skinned and autistic.
Of course, the helicopter parents' goal of shielding their kids from all outside "influences" (i.e. relationships) will postpone the rude awakening. But eventually they're going to have to interact with real-life people, not their biased and coddling parents, and will crack from having grown up so weakened socially and emotionally. And by that point it'll be too late to correct. Kids get their picture of what the world's going to be like from toddler age or so up through adolescence, and then it's set. They don't learn other languages after that point, and they don't form radically different schemas about how interactions take place.
Indeed that's why it's so infuriating to try to interact with them sometimes -- someone from Gen Y or earlier can't just wave a magic wand and psychologically adjust to the new world of autistic youngsters. We're stuck in our non-weirdo social expectations. It'll be a miracle if workplace interactions survive a generation gap this wide. And forget about inter-generational togetherness outside the workplace, where things would have to be more voluntary.
But, not to worry too much, since it's just one generation that's messed up. Parenting styles akin to engineering pass in and out of "fashion" over the decades, so some new generation will come around and be more like the Boomers, who are easier for most people to interact with, especially the later ones. Just keep your radar on and you'll know it when they're here. Until then, I think we have to write off most Millennials as lost causes for anything requiring social-emotional competence (let alone excellence), trust, behavioral flexibility, and so on.