Do you know your parenting style? If not, you could be reinforcing behaviors in your children that you don’t like and may want to eliminate.
Developmental psychologists have been interested in how parents influence the development of children’s social, cognitive, and behavioral competence since before the Great Depression. Researchers studying the parent-child relationship have examined the parents' “parenting style” and its effect on children as they grow into adults. Diana Baumrind and others have spent decades studying these relationships and the effect of parenting style on many areas of child development and competency.
Parenting Style Defined
To be sure, there are some specific parental behaviors that can have a definite impact on children, such as disciplining them in anger or rage, spanking, or reading to them every day and teaching them the alphabet and basic math. But to evaluate the impact parents have on childrearing, we must examine the whole relationship parents have with their children across all events over time. How parents interact with their children, respond to their needs, impose expectations, guide and teach them from infancy through adolescence, is all inclusive in determining how parenting styles affect our children’s development.
To evaluate the impact parents have on childrearing, we must examine the whole relationship parents have with their children across all events over time.
Most researchers who attempt to describe this broad parental milieu rely on Diana Baumrind’s concept of parenting style. The construct of parenting style is used to capture normal variations in parents’ attempts to control and socialize their children (Baumrind, 1991). Baumrind’s parenting styles define non-abusive styles and are not intended to include or describe parental behavior that includes abuse or neglect. Parenting style includes parents using two central forces to achieve these goals, referred to as “responsiveness” and “demandingness” (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).
Four Parenting Styles
Categorizing parents according to whether they are high or low on parental demandingness and responsiveness creates a typology of four parenting styles: Indulgent, Authoritarian, Authoritative, and Uninvolved (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Each of these parenting styles reflects different naturally occurring patterns of parental values, practices, and behaviors (Baumrind, 1991) and a distinct balance of responsiveness and demandingness.
Because parenting style is a typology, rather than a linear combination of responsiveness and demandingness, each parenting style is more than and different from the sum of its parts (Baumrind, 1991). In addition to differing on responsiveness and demandingness, the parenting styles also differ in the extent to which they are characterized by a third dimension: psychological control.
Psychological control “refers to control attempts that intrude into the psychological and emotional development of the child” (Barber, 1996, p. 3296) through the use of parenting practices such as guilt induction, withdrawal of love, or shaming.
Authoritative parents tend to be low in psychological control, while authoritarian parents tend to be high. Authoritative parents understand their role to include helping children to develop their own convictions, opinions, and beliefs and test them out while still under their parents' guidance.
Consequences for Children
Parenting style has been found to predict child wellbeing in the domains of social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development, and problem behavior. Research based on parent interviews, child reports, and parent observations consistently find:
In general, parental responsiveness predicts social competence and psychosocial functioning, while parental demandingness is associated with instrumental competence and behavioral control (i.e., academic performance and deviance). These findings indicate:
In reviewing the research, children with an authoritative upbringing are associated with both instrumental and social competence and lower levels of problem behavior in both boys and girls at all developmental stages. The benefits of authoritative parenting and the detrimental effects of uninvolved parenting are evident as early as the preschool years and continue throughout adolescence and into early adulthood. Although specific differences can be found in the competence evidenced by each group, the largest differences are found between children whose parents are unengaged and their peers with more involved parents.
The benefits of authoritative parenting and the detrimental effects of uninvolved parenting are evident as early as the preschool years and continue throughout adolescence and into early adulthood.
Differences between children from authoritative homes and their peers are equally consistent, but somewhat smaller (Weiss & Schwarz, 1996). Just as authoritative parents appear to be able to balance their conformity demands with their respect for their children’s individuality, so children from authoritative homes appear to be able to balance the claims of external conformity and achievement demands with their need for individuation and autonomy.
Influence of Sex, Ethnicity, or Family Type
It is important to distinguish between differences in the distribution and the correlates of parenting style in different subpopulations. Although in the United States authoritative parenting is most common among intact, middle-class families of European descent, the relationship between authoritativeness and child outcomes is quite similar across groups.
There are some exceptions to this general statement, however: (1)demandingness appears to be less critical to girls’ than to boys’ well-being (Weiss & Schwarz, 1996), but (2) authoritative parenting predicts good psychosocial outcomes and problem behaviors for adolescents in all ethnic groups studied (African-, Asian-, European-, and Hispanic Americans), but it is associated with academic performance only among European Americans and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic Americans (Steinberg, Dornbusch, & Brown, 1992; Steinberg, Darling, & Fletcher, 1995). Chao (1994) and others (Darling & Steinberg, 1993) have argued that observed ethnic differences in the association of parenting style with child outcomes may be due to differences in social context, parenting practices, or the cultural meaning of specific dimensions of parenting style.
Parenting style provides a strong indicator of parental functioning that predicts child well-being. Both parental responsiveness and parental demandingness are important components of good parenting. Authoritative parenting, which uses clear, high parental demands with emotional responsiveness and recognition of child autonomy, is one of the most consistent family predictors of competence from early childhood through adolescence.
However, despite the long and robust tradition of research into parenting style, a number of issues remain outstanding. Foremost among these are issues of definition, developmental change in the manifestation and correlates of parenting styles, and the processes underlying the benefits of authoritative parenting (see Schwarz et al., 1985; Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Baumrind, 1991; and Barber, 1996).
by Tres Adames, M.Div.
I counsel a lot of teenagers. Being in my thirties, I’m closer in age than most parents of teens. Even though we were all teenagers at one time, it’s easy to forget the difficulties of adolescence. Some blame the changing times. Others blame hormones. While these might be factors to an extent, research shows that brain development is likely a greater cause than we originally thought before.
They’re not done growing.
Several years ago, Frontline produced a documentary for PBS which presents how scientists are learning more about why teenagers act the way they do. According to research, the final part of brain development is not done until a person reaches the age of 25. This final phase is the formation of the prefrontal cortex, which orchestrates complex rational thought and decision-making. In other words, your teen may be six feet tall, but his brain isn’t done growing.
A recent article in the New York Times notes that it’s the amygdala that develops first—the part of the brain that activates fear. This explains why teens feel a lot more anxiety than adults, and even feel more fear than children. How do teens deal with this uptick in fear? Many times by medicating emotions through addictive substances and behavior.
Why teens do risky things.
When adults come to me for help in overcoming addiction, I always ask them when they first started their behavior. Almost always it’s when they were in their teens or early twenties. The thing that some teens may not realize is that life is meant to get easier emotionally as they get older. A lot of adolescents I’ve talked to believe that the stress of life will only increase the older they get. I inform them that while responsibilities increase, access to the emotional resources and maturity they’ll need will also increase. This can be comforting words for any teenager to hear, especially if they are stressed over the future.
"I have this theory that your body goes through puberty in its teens, and the mind goes through puberty in your twenties." --Zach Braff, actor and director
How to relate better with your teen.
So how can you help your teen when they are stressing out? Talk with them when they need it. Listen. Give them space. Sound like three contradictory approaches? I’ll explain.
I use a humorous but helpful analogy when explaining teenage behavior to parents. Teens are not like dogs (eager to please you and following every directive). Teens are more like cats—and not just because they sleep all the time! Cats, like teens, are highly individual creatures. Give them too much attention and they’ll desperately try to get away. Leave them alone and they’ll come around. In fact, they may plop right on your keyboard while you’re trying to work. So back to the three approaches. How to help your teen:
1. Talk with them.
Citing the research above, remember that teens have a harder time dealing with anxiety and fear. They also can’t reason as well as adults. When dealing with difficult problems, teens need help catching their emotions up with the rationale behind events in their lives. This is where the next step comes in.
Validate feelings but remain firm. When talking things through with your teen, give them the opportunity to express their viewpoint, even if you know it’s irrational. Many times, they just want to feel heard. You don’t have to give in, but let them express what’s on their mind (insofar as it is appropriate).
Parents are quick to remember the Apostle Paul's words: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother''" (Ephesians 6:1-2) But Paul also adds this caveat: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Kids don't respond well when they feel frustrated. Seek to listen, but still guide. Be firm, but seek to understand.
3. Give them space.
Sometimes teens won’t open up. Let them have alone time, and if something is on their mind, make it known that you are willing to talk if they need you. Asking how their day went as soon as they walk in usually won’t elicit a response. Not asking at all and letting them come to you later may actually cause them to open up more. Also, encourage their individuality but don’t shield them from failure. If they lose a basketball game, don’t pull them out of the program. Let them feel the natural consequences of failure so they can learn how to really succeed.
Note: This article is meant to only give some brief perspective on relating better with your teen. It’s much too short to cover all the bases, especially if you have a teen that is struggling significantly either personally or with others. Here are some books that go more in detail:
Finally, just remember that adolescents are trying to figure out how to be adults but can still be needy. Many actually do want to open up more and even please their parents—though they may never admit it. Don’t be afraid to let them grow up. Let these years be the foundation of a friendship that will last for years when they finally become adults.
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