Parenting is Hard. It Should have been Easy.

Parents face New Challenges in the Modern Age

As a parent of two teenagers, I can tell you what every parent today knows: that raising children is hard. I find it a challenge sometimes to get the kids off their screens and spend some time outdoors. Even with a doctor-dad who writes about healthy living, their diet is not ideal. Sleep is sometimes impacted by staying up late at times due to homework or watching screens. It’s on us parents to supervise to ensure that their rooms are clean and their chores are done.

But the key word in the above statement is “today”. In contrast to parents today, in many ways in Paleolithic times, when we lived as hunter gatherers, parenting was much easier.

In the Past, Healthy Living was Built into Daily Living

For starters, nearly everyone sleeps well in such societies. No screens to cause insomnia. Parents didn’t need to coerce their kids to go outside. In fact, there was no such thing as inside in those days. Today, in spite of an increasingly interconnected world, paradoxically, children feel more isolated than ever. Hunter gatherers children lived in groups of dozens of individuals with extended families and friends and enjoyed rich social lives.

Not to romanticize the past, our ancestors had major problems they had to contend with. In hunter gatherer societies food was unprocessed and thus nutritious though certainly starvation was a threat. Moreover, security was a threat in a way it is not today.

Today – Too Many Temptations

Today we solved the problems of food shortage and security threats for the most part. We thus should have been able to relax as parents who watch their kids use their freedom to make the most of their lives.

The problem is there is we have introduced too many temptations into our children’s lives. Why so? Because people get paid big bucks to ensure that our children stay glued to their screens or consume ultra-processed junk food. The problem is we easily mistake pleasure for happiness, and capitalism is perfectly structured to take advantage of this reality. We’ve purchased all sorts of temptations, and conveniences. We’ve normalized radical privacy. We have thus undermined our health, wellbeing, interconnectedness and ultimately our happiness. Unlike adults, our children lack a fully developed prefrontal cortex. The result is that they are unable to resist temptations. But those temptations just did not exist in those days.

Hunter Gatherer Parents had lots of Help

The result is not only the benefits that the child experiences but depression among new mom’s is also much lower. Teens and even younger children not only gain experience in parenting by serving as “allo-parents” but also gained a sense of confidence. The community gains cohesion. Moreover, children are more free and needed less supervision. Since they developed normally, they have much less of the psychopathology we find common among kids today. Thus they required less parental supervision as they get older.

Why can’t we take the Good without the Bad?

What’s the solution then? Are we to go back to living as hunter gatherers? Of course not. As mentioned, while that lifestyle has many benefits, they face some serious problems including the threat of starvation and a general lack of security. We’ve advanced as a people with regards to food production and security but it did not have to be this way. We could have taken the good without also taking the bad.

Garages are a Particular Problem

The bigger point I want to make is that mindless consumerism undermines our health, wellbeing and happiness. What has happened to us? Think of all that we have normalized. We’ve sealed off our houses and isolated ourselves. Every child needs their own bedroom, their own phones, their own car. Spending well over 90% our time indoors is considered normal. Looking into the future, what more can we expect?


Happier. Healthier. Wealthier... Video Series