Unfortunately, parenthood does not come with a ‘how to’ manual and every parent simply gets on with the job. But how do you choose a parenting style or does it simply choose you….?
A question of style
As a mother, or a mum to be, you’re probably the proud owner of at least one pregnancy/parenting book. The ‘how to’ phenomenon sprang up some years ago and, since then, there’s been a mountain of books telling women – and men – the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to parent.
The first thing you need to know about parenting styles, however, is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to parent. Some people simply adopt the ideas their own parents used, while others will seek advice from friends. Some will read books about parenting, while others will just go with the flow and work it out as they’re going along…
You’ve probably heard the old sayings about parenting not coming with a guidebook and that’s very true. There are though four or five main parenting styles that you’ll probably come across a lot of the time. Which one do you think is for you?
Although this is a relatively new concept, there’s no doubt that tiger parenting is becoming one of the most popular styles – although you’d be hard pressed to find many parents admitting to it!
The main characteristics of tiger parenting are high levels of expectation and demands on the part of the parent, combined with high levels of parental investment and involvement. Tiger parents rarely praise children in public, have very high and strict expectations of how they will turn out, and discourage participation in any form of activity that isn’t conducive to entry to university.
Until recently, the term was mainly used to describe Far Eastern families who had come to live in the West, and who wanted to ensure that their move produced optimum results for their kids, but the term has now been expanded to cover all parents who ‘push’ their child all the way.
It’s probably fair to say that in tiger parenting there needs to be acknowledgement of a ‘middle ground’ – where it’s perfectly feasible for parents to have high expectations and a certain degree of involvement, but also one where they communicated with their kids in a loving and supportive family environment and without undue pressure.
Once referred to as ‘overprotective’, these parents are now ‘helicopter parents’ – more often than not mums, who hover watchfully over their kids, ensuring that nothing untoward happens to them.
As with tiger parenting, research seems to reinforce the idea that helicopter parenting is an expanding universe. Patricia Somers, an associate professor of education at the University of Texas-Austin, estimates that 60-70 per cent of parents are involved in some kind of helicoptering behaviour.
The ‘helicopter’ mum is ever present; always ready to step in to defend her ‘cubs’. Unable to watch her children upset for any reason, she will always be on the defence, regardless of whether or not her child is in the right.
The problem is that one of the most important life lessons that children can learn in life is how to solve conflicts and how to get through difficult situations without needing someone else to step in. Unfortunately, helicopter parenting blurs the line between mothering and smothering and so children in these scenarios often don’t get the space they need to develop their own, separate identities.
Authoritarian parents are highly demanding and directive, but not responsive. They always try to be in control and to exert their control over their children. They set strict rules to try to keep order and they usually do this without much expression of warmth and affection. Rather unsurprisingly, they’re usually very critical of their children for not meeting their high standards. The children are told what to do and are usually not provided with choices or options.
‘Because I said so’ would be one of the authoritarian parent’s favourite sayings, with the parent tending to focus on bad behaviour, rather than highlighting good behaviour, and scolding or punishing kids – often harshly – for not following the rules.
Children and adolescents from such authoritarian families tend to perform moderately well in school and don’t get involved in problem behaviour. They do, however, tend to have poorer social skills, lower self esteem and higher levels of depression.
Permissive parents (also often referred to as ‘indulgent’) tend to give up most of the control to their children. Parents make few, if any, rules and those that they do make are usually not consistently enforced. Even bad behaviour tends to be accepted in a warm and loving way!
Permissive parents can often be non-traditional and lenient, not requiring mature behaviour from their children. They don’t want to be tied down to routines and want their children to feel ‘free’. They don’t set clear boundaries or expectations for their children’s behaviour and tend to accept in a warm and loving way however the child behaves. The permissive parent will give a child as many choices as possible, even when the child is not capable of making good choices.
Children from permissive or indulgent homes are more likely to be involved in problem behaviour and perform less well in school, but, on the plus side, they have higher self esteem, better social skills and lower levels of depression.
Democratic or authoritative
Democratic or authoritative parents seem to find a happy medium between being demanding and responsive. They help their children learn to be responsible for themselves and to think about the consequences of their behaviour, but do it in such a way that they provide clear, reasonable expectations for their children and explanations for why they expect their children to behave in a particular manner.
While the children’s behaviour is then monitored to make sure that they follow through on rules and expectations, it’s done in a warm and loving manner.
Parents who have a democratic style often give choices based on a child’s ability. For a toddler, the choice may be ‘do you want to wear your blue shirt, or your red shirt?’ while an older child may be asked ‘do you want an apple, an orange, or a banana?’ Parents guide a child’s behaviour by teaching, not punishing. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, children whose parents are authoritative, tend to rate themselves as more socially and instrumentally competent than those whose parents are non-authoritative.
Most parents are somewhere in between these styles, but research on children’s development shows that the most positive outcomes for children occur when parents use democratic styles.