Pop quiz: Are you a gentle parent? Last year, before I had ever heard this phrase, I would have answered yes, because it sounds like the kind of parent I at least try to be to my two kids.
But then, starting in August 2021, TikTok’s algorithm began to bombard my For You Page with videos hashtagged #gentleparenting. According to Google trends, this is when the term began going viral, after a slow rise in popularity that started in 2020 and is still cresting today. To be a gentle parent, #gentleparenting influencers told me, you don’t say no to your child. You don’t put them in time out. You need to talk them through tantrums. Never leave them to deal with their “disregulated” emotions alone. Never raise your voice.
In these #gentleparenting TikToks filling my feed, moms (always moms, never dads, mostly white, but not exclusively) demonstrated how they redirected biters by teaching them to ask for something to gnaw on. Or how they let their child come into their bedroom multiple times if the child was afraid at night. The most common videos showed parents actively talking their kids down from meltdowns. One toddler tantrum video, posted in June of 2021, has been watched more than 25 million times. The five top influencers who come up when you search for #gentleparenting on TikTok—@mammacusses, @jothemama, @rachelynnrogers, @highimpactclub, @lauralove5514—have nearly 10 million followers between them. And the thousands of videos uploaded to TikTok using that hashtag have cumulatively been viewed 1.4 billion times.