Parenting: Best Practices for Raising Children (page 2)
In studying characteristics of the parent-child subsystem, researchers have identified two dimensions that are especially important: parental warmth and parental control. They have also studied how these dimensions combine to form different patterns or styles of parenting.
Parental Warmth and Control
Parental warmth is the degree to which parents are accepting, responsive, and compassionate with their children. Parents who are high in warmth are very supportive, nurturing, and caring. They pay close attention to their children's needs, and their parenting behaviors tend to be child centered (focused on the needs of the child rather than on the convenience or demands of the parents). Researchers see parental warmth as existing on a broad continuum—from parents who show a high degree of warmth to those who show little or no warmth. At the lower end of the continuum are parents who are rejecting, unresponsive to their children, and more parent centered than child centered. This cold type of parenting is detrimental to the child's development. Numerous studies have shown that children who experience cold parenting are more aggressive, have fewer friends, and perform more poorly in school. Conversely, when parenting is high in warmth, children acquire better social and academic skills, and they show more love and respect for their parents and other people (Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Parke & Buriel, 1998).
Parental control is the degree to which the parents set limits, enforce rules, and maintain discipline with children. Parents who are high in control set firm limits on their children's behavior, and they enforce rules consistently. They are involved in their children's lives and use discipline to provide structure for their children's behaviors. Parents low in control, however, are lax, permissive, or uninvolved with their children. Like parental warmth, control is on a continuum: Some parents show a high degree of control, some only a moderate degree, and others very little control or little involvement with their children,
When we look at parental warmth and parental control, it is important to consider their combined effects. When warm parents use firm control, for example, discipline tends to be child centered, age appropriate, and positive. When cold and rejecting parents use firm control, however, discipline can be very harsh, punitive, and even abusive. By itself, neither warmth nor control is sufficient for explaining the effects of parenting on children's developmental outcomes.
Researchers also draw a distinction between physical control and psychological control. Physical control involves the use of physical means to control children, such as hitting, spanking, pushing, and physically forcing children to do things. Psychological control uses guilt, humiliation, love withdrawal, or emotional manipulation to control children. Both forms of control can be harmful, especially when used by parents who are cold or rejecting with their children. One study of Chinese families, for example, showed that fathers who used more physical control had sons who were more physically aggressive with their peers. In this same study, psychological control by mothers was related with increases in physical and emotional aggressiveness in their daughters (Nelson, Hart, Yang, Olsen, & Jin, 2006). Therefore, the effects of physical and psychological control may depend on the parent inflicting the control and on the gender of the child who is being controlled.
In the mid-1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind began a longitudinal study investigating the effects of different styles of parenting. Her follow-up studies, and the many similar studies conducted by other researchers, have strongly influenced how parents and professionals think about parenting. The research has identified four distinct styles of parenting that represent the different combinations of high and low parental warmth combined with high and low parental control (Baumrind, 1973, 1991; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Below describes the four parenting styles in terms of warmth and control. Let's look more closely at these styles. As we describe each style, consider what might happen if a 4-year-old child is caught hitting his sister. Ask yourself: What would you (or your parents) do in a situation like this?
Authoritative parents are warm and exert firm control. They monitor their children closely and have clear standards and high expectations for their behavior. They tend to use disciplinary methods that are supportive rather than punitive. There is clear communication between parent and child, and the lines of communication go both ways. Authoritative parents listen carefully to their children, and they allow give-and-take on disciplinary matters in a way that is age appropriate for the child. If their 4-year-old hits another child, their first response is likely to sit with the child and have a calm discussion about the incident. "Why did you hit her?" Authoritative parents are understanding and supportive ("We know you were frustrated and angry"), but they will set boundaries for their children and institute appropriate consequences if the child does not behave ("You know the family rule is 'no hitting,' so now you will lose your TV time"). The important point is that authoritative parents are rational, consistent, and child centered in their approach to discipline.
Over time, authoritative parents expect their children to develop the ability to regulate their own behavior. Compared to other children, children raised by authoritative parents perform better in school, are less hostile and more popular among friends, have greater self-esteem, show more purpose and independence in their activities, and as adolescents they are more accurate in understanding their parents' values (Baumrind, 1973, 1991; Knafo & Schwartz, 2003; Parke & Buriel, 1998).
Authoritarian parents also exert firm control, but they do it in a way that is rejecting or unresponsive to the child. "No hitting!" they might yell. "What were you thinking!? Now you get over here right now!" Authoritarian parents set firm limits and expect that their children will behave. Their disciplinary methods tend to be harsh and punitive. Rather than having a rational discussion of an incident, they are more inclined to lower the boom immediately without regard for the child's perspective. Children raised in an authoritarian environment may feel trapped and angry but afraid to confront their parents (Parke & Buriel, 1998). They perform less well in school, are more hostile and aggressive and less popular with peers, and are less independent than children reared by authoritative parents (Baumrind, 1973).
Permissive parents are warm but have little control. They fail to set or enforce appropriate limits for their children. Permissive parents avoid confrontation with their children. Being too lenient, they do not require that their children behave in a mature and responsible manner. Sometimes permissive parents justify their style by saying they'd rather be a friend than a parent to their children. A permissive parent might dismiss the misbehavior lightly ("Now you know we don't hit, so don't let me see you do that again"). At the extreme, permissive parents can become indulgent—beyond merely allowing their children to misbehave, they may actually encourage or foster their misbehavior: "Well, if he hit you, then you just hit him back!" As their children and teens grow older, permissive-indulgent parents may encourage or condone inappropriate behaviors such as skipping school, vandalism, alcohol or drug abuse, or sexual promiscuity. Compared to authoritatively raised children, children from permissive homes are more impulsive, perform less well in school, and are less self-assured, independent, and confident in their activities (Parke & Buriel, 1998).
Rejecting/neglecting parents don't set limits and are unresponsive to their children's needs. This category of parenting has two substyles: Rejecting parents are harsh and actively reject their children, whereas neglecting parents ignore their children and fail to fulfill their responsibilities as parents. These parents don't monitor their children properly and may not notice misbehaviors. Rejecting/neglecting parents may be under too much stress to parent appropriately; they may not be committed to the task of raising children; or they may be depressed or otherwise psychologically or emotionally unavailable to their children. Children raised by rejecting/neglecting parents fare the worst of all. Compared to other children, rejected/neglected children grow up to show higher rates of delinquency, alcohol and drug use, and early sexual activity. They perform more poorly in school and show other disruptions in peer relations and cognitive development (Parke & Buriel, 1998).
In her later work, Baumrind expanded the number of parenting styles to seven: authoritative, democratic, nondirective, authoritarian-directive, nonauthoritarian-directive, unengaged, and good enough. She also added two dimensions in addition to parental warmth and parental control. Maturity demands are parents' expectations that the child will show age-appropriate behavior, self-reliance, and self-control. Democratic communication is the degree to which parents ask for and consider the child's feelings and opinions. As you might expect, higher levels of each are indicative of more effective parenting. Research in this area also highlights the problem of intrusiveness, or control that parents maintain by psychologically manipulating and inhibiting children. Studies have linked higher levels of intrusiveness with poorer outcomes for children and adolescents. Researchers have confirmed this finding in several different cultures, although children of "unengaged" parents still seem to fare worst of all (Barber, 2002; Baumrind, 1991).
Quality parenting is an issue of great interest and concern to all who work with children, but there is little agreement on how to improve it. One proposal involves requiring people to get a license before they can become parents.
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