How would you describe your parenting style? Helicopter, bulldozer, lawnmower, snowplow…? These are but a few examples of metaphors used to describe various 'nouveau' parental approaches that have steadily gained traction since the 1980's. A common theme in the above examples is ensuring that children excel in academics and/or sports with parents running interference when adversity strikes. Loving parents may altruistically feel obligated to do whatever it takes to ensure the success of their children without realizing the potential hazards.
In 1966, psychologist Diane Baumrind proposed a system of ‘classifying’ parents. Her system has served as the categorical approach to child-rearing for over 50 years. The three classifications: Permissive, Authoritarian, and Authoritative.
Permissive parents are warm and loving but low on rules and structure. They tend to engage in more of a ‘friend’ relationship with their children than that of a parent-child. Family rules may go unenforced, and children are allowed to weigh in on decisions traditionally made by adults. It is not uncommon for children of permissive parents to struggle socially and exhibit behavior issues when encountering life situations that require abiding by established rules (school, jobs, sports).
Authoritarian parents are the polar opposite of permissive parents. Strict and commanding, authoritarian parents adhere to the most controlling style of child-rearing. To ensure compliance from their children, they rely on punishments, threats, and psychological control with low emotional warmth and support. The authoritarian child-rearing approach does not promote healthy emotional security in children and is not recommended by child-rearing experts.
Authoritative parents combine warm, loving care with structure and limitations. They apply positive reinforcement and sound reasoning. Consequences for misbehavior are age appropriate and meaningful to the child, while threats and harsh punishments are avoided. Authoritative parents practice what they preach and hold their children accountable. Associated with better academic performance, studies have determined the authoritative classification to be the most appropriate for raising children.
Almost 20 years after Baumrind’s classifications, researchers added a 4th category - Neglectful (Maccoby and Martin,1983). A notable increase in child negligence led to the new classification. Neglectful parents do not respond to the needs of their children beyond the basics. They may provide food, clothing and shelter but fail to provide adequate nurturing, guidance, and discipline necessary for healthy development. Neglectful parents are not interested in activities relating to their children nor in disciplinary boundaries. They tend to focus on their own problems and desires. Parental negligence is not necessarily intentional. For some parents, their stressful lifestyle contributes to a culture of neglect, unaware of their children’s emotional needs. This parent style is known to be extremely detrimental to children.
Previous generations focused heavily on developing positive character traits. Parents and community members enforced like-minded expectations that offered children consistency and stability. The staggering increase in the number of children and youth suffering from mental health issues today (leading the American Academy of Pediatrics to declare a national mental health emergency) suggests that the ‘nouveau’ parenting approaches are not adequately preparing children to ultimately become independent adults who are respectful, responsible, resourceful, and resilient.
For meaningful change to occur, character development must be restored as the primary focus of child-rearing. It will require parents to take a dispassionate, realistic look at their children’s behaviors as well as their own. When character development becomes the top priority of child-rearing a more civil and kinder society will emerge. When that happens, children will be better equipped to excel in life on their own (no micro-management needed).
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth