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Shortcuts: How to be a parent

By Alison Daniels for CNN
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(CNN) -- Western parents are being bombarded by a constant stream of research and advice -- a lot of it contradictory -- on the tricky subject of how to be a parent.

Some experts warn of the damaging effects of "over-scheduling." Experts say many parents are turning their children into "projects" and going to extraordinary lengths to help their children get ahead.

On the other hand recent research by psychologists at Yale University in the U.S. suggested children who are encouraged to take extra classes do better and school and reap benefits in later life.

So just what should the modern parent be doing?

Surely parenting just all comes naturally?

According to your grandmother's generation there wasn't much to parenting. Infant care involved plenty of fresh air; ie. leaving a child screaming in its pram at the bottom of the yard until it was old enough to go to school. After school activities? Sure... get on with the chores. And forget all that parenting equipment... who ever needed baby monitors, $800 three-wheeled prams designed to cope with off road terrain and specially formulated "toddler foods"?

The principles were simple: don't spoil a child, maintain a routine and instill a bit of discipline.

So what changed?

Dr Spock. The American pediatrician's book "Baby and Child Care," published in 1946, became the bible for post-war parents around the world. The book, which went into its seventh updated edition this May, is the world's bestselling non-fiction publication after the Bible, with over 50 million copies in print. Spock challenged the ideas of rigid childcare and advocated raising children with a gentle touch. His notions of "trusting your judgment" and raising children with respect saw him change the face of modern parenting but also earned him the sobriquet, "the father of permissiveness."

Maybe not then... who can the modern parent turn to now?

It's almost impossible to avoid parenting gurus these days. Everyone from Walmart to national governments are peddling advice.

Meanwhile childcare books sell by the ton, eagerly devoured by exhausted parents desperate to discover the secret of a good night's sleep or find out which educational toys will propel their toddler into the top universities.

Need to get the little darling to sleep? Turn to British sleep expert Penelope Leach. Want to raise boys successfully? Try Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph's best seller "Raising Boys." Want a laid back approach? Check out new publication, "The Madness of Modern Families: The Race to Compete with other Bl**dy Parents"... etc., etc.

Gosh... how do I choose an expert?

Hollywood stars like Jodie Foster and Cindy Crawford and even Arnold Schwarzenegger -- governor of California and star of the 1990 hit movie Kindergarten Cop -- are known to have sought the advice of "the baby whisperer", Tracy Hogg.

The author -- who died two years ago -- didn't advocate anything particularly original but her hugely popular book, "Secrets of the Baby Whisper," instructs parents to follow the EASY plan -- Eat, Activity, Sleep then You time.

A former British nurse, her main contribution was a helpful table of the different baby noises. A steady "waa waa waa" means baby's hungry, whereas three short wails, a hard cry then two short breaths means baby's tired. Try figuring it out at 3 a.m.

Forget that. Children should be seen not heard.

The turn to another British parenting guru, Gina Ford. This no-nonsense maternity nurse has sold more than 350,000 books and created a dedicated, almost evangelical, following. She advocates a regime so regimented and old-fashioned that even your grandmother would call for leniency.

Baby should be awake, nappy changed and fed no later than 7 a.m. He must be breast fed for 35 minutes. Do not feed baby after 7.45 a.m. Mother should have cereal, toast and a drink no later than 8 a.m. 8.45: Baby should start to get sleepy... And so it goes on, until 7 p.m. when he finally goes to bed. Without a murmur.

That's more like it. What about teenagers?

For help on how to deal with disaffected youth, don't look to the UK for guidance. Britain's teenagers top the European bad behavior league. They drink more, fight more and have more underage sex than their counterparts in France, Italy or Germany. Over a third of British youths have smoked cannabis compared with just seven percent in Sweden. Why? Well social commentators in the UK point to the rise of single parent families and working mothers.

Oh... sounds contentious.

Look, be prepared, parenting is contentious. Women who give up their careers to devoted their time 24/7 to caring for their offspring have recently been dubbed "helicopter moms." This is not a compliment. A helicopter mom hovers over every aspect of her child's development from birth to adulthood, unable to let go. Meanwhile fathers it seems, are letting go a little too easily. New men? A recent study estimated the average European man spends just 19 minutes a day parenting his offspring.

So what's the answer?

Ha... if I knew that I'd have written the book.


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Kids: how do you raise yours?

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