This quote recently popped up on Facebook and it got me to thinking about parenting in our modern age. It’s tricky, at best. There is no textbook parent, there is no textbook child. Together with this, we are in a digital age where advice comes thick and fast through social media, a million blogs, webpages, from professionals, and from parents and non-parents alike. So let’s talk about some of the basics. In the field of psychology we talk about three different styles of parenting (originally identified by Diana Baumrind in 1967. These are:
Parents who utilise a permissive parenting style tend to be very loving but tend to not set limits on behaviour and they provide few rules. When rules are applied, they are often inconsistent. This often leaves the children of permissive parents to feel insecure as they don’t know where the boundaries are. These children are also often demanding and self-involved. Permissive parents often seem more like a friend to their children than a parent.
Parents who utilise an authoritarian style of parenting often have rigid rules and display very little warmth. The children of authoritarian parents can grow up displaying increasingly aggressive behaviour and have poor problem solving skills.
Ideally, parents do better when utilising an authoritative parenting style. These parents are warm and caring but also provide healthy boundaries and limits. Boundaries indicate that parents care enough to say no, care enough to teach children acceptable behaviour and social skills, and care enough to limit children in order to keep them safe. These children tend to cope better academically, tend to have more healthy coping skills and feel generally more secure.
From a neurological perspective, the brain continues to develop well into early adulthood. Basically what this means is that parents need to be knowledgeable on their child’s developmental level so that expectations on their children regarding problem solving and decision-making are developmental and neurologically appropriate. Telling a three-year-old that he or she can decide on where the family should have their holiday/vacation places unrealistic demands on the child while simultaneously giving the message that the child can dictate what the family does and where the family goes. This then leans toward permissive parenting and may make the child feel unrealistically powerful or overly responsible.
As children get older, parents may wish to involve them in some areas of family decision-making but it is advisable to keep these democratic moments within boundaries of what can and what can’t be ultimately decided by the growing child or teenager. No fifteen-year-old should be deciding whether Dad takes a new job or which house parents purchase. Adult decisions should remain so, leaving children to remain children for as long as they possibly can. However, parents need to strive for some balance. Teenagers need to be given a certain amount of decision-making power in line with their development. You may want to sit down with your teen and ask for their input on what the punishment should be for a particular indiscretion, or what an appropriate curfew should be. These show faith in your teen’s ability to make healthy decisions and also avoid leaning towards an authoritarian parenting style where rules are made to be followed with no space for negotiation. Teens of authoritarian parents are more likely to rebel in order to right some of the power imbalance.
Not everything is a negotiation and as mentioned, an authoritative parent will ultimately set the limits and boundaries in order to provide a safe and healthy environment in which their children can grow and develop.
As a parent the tricky part is not allowing the disapproving looks and comments of friends and family keep you from being a parent who is a parent and not your child’s best friend. Friends do not generally pull rank on us but parents need to do so on a fairly regular basis. The friend parent who pulls rank is likely to confuse a child, make them feel insecure and unsure of the relationship, and lead to resentment. Focus on making your relationship with your child one that is unambiguous, and based on love and limits.