Though this style may be effective in bringing about the desired behavior in children, it may also breed disrespect for the parents, whose words do not match their lives. As children mature, they become increasingly sensitive to any form of contradictory behavior in their parents. The typical teenager is quick to point out such inconsistency.
Despite its shortcomings, the teaching style is better than the neglectful style. The teaching style becomes a problem for children, however, when the parents’ teaching is inconsistent with their behavior. It may be that the parents do not intentionally cause this confusion if they truly believe in and desire to live up to the standards they enunciate but fail to do so.
Parenting that is high in action and low in content is the modeling style. It also is only partially effective in that a child must rely entirely on observing the behavior of parents to gain a system of values, norms, and beliefs. Modeling does have some advantage over the teaching style, however. While the teaching style lacks behavior to back it up, the modeling style offers the behavior (but with little or no explanation of the values behind it). The old adage that what children learn is “caught rather than taught” applies here, and parents will find that modeling is an effective way to inculcate values and desired behavior in their children. Recent research has verified that modeling does have positive benefits (e.g., Kjøbli et al. 2013).
Parenting that is high in both action and content is discipling. This style is complete in that parents teach their children by word and by deed. It is curious, however, that while the concept of discipling is popular in the contemporary church, it is rarely used to refer to parental training. The term discipline, remember, is related to the word disciple, which refers to one who accepts certain ideas or values and leads or guides others to accept them as well. Discipling, then, is a system of giving positive guidance to children.
Socio-emotional Parenting An important aspect of socio-emotional parenting focuses on the
attachment quality of the relationship between parents and children. A
resource we highly recommend for parents of young children is the work of Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Based on attachment science and an understanding of a child’s brain, The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired (2020) offers the following building blocks (the four S’s) of healthy development: safe, providing a place of safe harbor; seen, paying attention to positive and negative emotions; soothed, being attentive to the hard things they experience and teaching coping skills; and secure, providing faithful, ongoing, trustworthy presence. Siegel and Bryson emphasize the significance of parents attuning to children’s experiences so that their children experience being felt and known. These experiences emphasize how children respond when one or both of their parents demonstrate affective attunement. That is, children experience a sense of validation when a caregiver responds in a manner that demonstrates attunement. One important way for parents to attune is to remain curious about what their children’s behavior is communicating and respond to who they really are, not what parents want them to be.
Repeated experiences of positive relational attachment build children’s brains to regulate and thrive. Effective and enduring mental health results when parents teach children how to tolerate the inevitable stress and distraction of their young lives through insight, empathy, and emotional and bodily regulation. This model comports well with covenant, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. In a distressing, unsafe, hyper-focused postmodern world, it’s not about being perfect parents—it’s about showing up, being present, and giving wise guidance. These are important components for connecting and supporting children while also empowering them.
Figure 7 represents the four styles of socio-emotional parenting. Here again there are two dimensions, support and control, each of which can be classified as high or low. The four styles depicted should be thought of as hypothetical rather than precisely representative of the way any one person engages in parenting.
The easiest style to criticize is neglectful parenting because of its obvious shortcomings. With low levels of support and control, little bonding develops between parents and children. In many homes, particularly those where economic factors play a devastating role, children are indeed neglected. This parenting style can also be found in homes where our modern, individualistic society leaves little time to meet the demands of caring for and providing sufficient structure for the children. The latchkey child may be a victim of this system. Single parents have little choice and agonize over their lack of time to provide support and exercise control due to the many other demands on them.
There are those who advocate this very free lifestyle for children. They see no need to teach morals; rather, children should experiment and come to their own conclusions about personal values. This philosophy emphasizes the child’s right to discover his or her own beliefs and lifestyle and suggests that character is built by allowing children to make their own way in the world.
This low-support, low-control style of parenting is characteristic of disengaged families in which each member’s life rarely touches the others in any meaningful way. It also characterizes many urban families in which both parents work outside the home or in which there is only one parent. The tentativeness of many people in making a commitment to another person may be a result of being reared in a neglectful home.
We believe that a home without parental leadership is lacking a great deal. Children who grow up without adequate guidance become fertile ground for authoritarian leaders or cults that prey on neglected young people. Neglected children experience a void regarding their identity and values, making them ripe for manipulation. These individuals hunger for a strong, strict leader to follow and obey without question. Such people are most susceptible to the dictates of an authoritarian figure because they have never experienced bonding with any authority figure. This happens because children are desperate for connection, and they will seek attention, either positive or negative, wherever they can find it.
When support is low and control high, we have what is called authoritarian parenting. The children are likely to be respectful and obedient to their parents. What is missing, because of a deficiency in the bonding process, is a sense of warmth, openness, and intimacy between parents and children. Authoritarian parenting has been found to be correlated with child behavioral problems (Tan et al. 2012). A study by Gromoske and Maguire-Jack (2012) reported that early spanking (at age one) is predictive of social-emotional development difficulties by age five. In a variation of the authoritarian style, the father is cast in the role of the instrumental leader who expects obedience from his children and teaches them what they need to know, while the mother assumes a socio-emotional role. There is high emotional support in the home, but only on the part of one parent—the one who is not seen as the ultimate authority figure. Compared to those with authoritative parents, children with authoritarian parents tend to have lower educational outcomes and prosocial behaviors like helping others, being sensitive to needs, and offering help before asked (Carlo et al. 2018). This pattern has been found in patriarchal cultures across the world where fathers avoid becoming emotionally close to their children due to prescribed parenting roles.
Where support is high and control is low, we have permissive parenting. It assumes that a newborn is like a rosebud, needing only tender love and support to blossom slowly into a beautiful flower. Present-day permissive
parenting can be traced back to the ideals of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, which can in turn be traced back to the bohemian morality of a century earlier. The thinking here is that every child has special potentialities at birth that are destroyed by societal rules and standards. Therefore, children need to be allowed to find their own purpose through free expression. During the 1960s, this philosophy was epitomized in the slogan “Do your own thing.”
Noticeably absent from the permissive style is any idea that children tend to be self-centered and need parental guidance in learning values and interpersonal skills. Consequently, children raised in permissive homes tend to lack a sense of social responsibility; they also fail to develop interdependence. A permissive parenting style has also been shown to be related to a number of negative child outcomes, including the emergence of children’s behavioral problems (Tan et al. 2012).
Authoritative parents combine the best qualities found in the authoritarian and permissive styles. Authoritative parents attempt to direct the child in a rational, issue-oriented manner; encourage verbal give-and-take; explain the reasons behind demands and discipline but also use power when necessary; expect the child to conform to adult requirements but also to be independent and self-directing; recognize the rights of both adults and children; and set standards and enforce them firmly. These parents do not regard themselves as infallible, but they also do not base decisions primarily on the child’s desires.
Children thrive in an environment of high support and high control. Carlo et al. (2018) and Pinquart (2017) found that social competence in children increases in matters of self-esteem, academic achievement, cognitive development, lowered externalizing behaviors (acting out), creativity, moral behavior, and instrumental abilities. Children raised in authoritative parenting homes have an increased capacity to make good internal decisions.
Other Impacts of Parenting Styles Researchers have begun to study the differing impact of parenting styles on children according to the ethnicity and gender of the parents. Rodriguez, Donovick, and Crowley (2009, 195) “showed the majority (61%) of Latino
parents as ‘protective parents’” and that “while mothers and fathers were similar in their parenting styles, expectations were different for male and female children.” Kawabata et al. (2011) observed that children’s relational aggression was higher when they were raised by psychologically controlling fathers but not by the same controlling behavior by mothers. Another study of adolescents reported that although “authoritative mothering was found to relate to higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction and to lower depression,” for fathering “the advantage was less defined and only evident for depression” (Milevsky et al. 2007, 39).
Parenting styles affect other areas of a child’s life as well. As might be expected, children’s internet use is highest when the parenting style is permissive and lowest when the style is authoritarian (Valcke et al. 2010). Even when it comes to physical activity, children perceive themselves to have higher fitness competence and value when their parents have a high challenging style in physical activities (Kimiecik and Horn 2012). Parenting styles have also been associated with obesity (Kakinami et al. 2015) and physical activity (Poppert Cordts, Wilson, and Riley 2020).
It should be noted that certain kinds of parental control are more effective and produce better results. For example, a coercive approach that forces a child to act against his or her will usually results in low levels of social competence in that child. Withdrawing one’s love to obtain compliance is also ineffective. Inductive control—giving explanations, using reasoning, and encouraging a child’s voluntary compliance by avoiding direct conflict of wills—proves to be the most effective approach. Coupling this type of control with strong emotional support produces competent children (Carlo et al. 2018). Coercion has an adverse effect on the development of social competence in children, which supports the type of empowerment we have suggested above.
Biological Factors in Parenting In chapter 2, we discussed the importance of biological factors in understanding family life, including parent-child relationships. Some parents may wrongly hold to a social deterministic view of parenting—thinking that they have an amazing power to make sure their children grow up to be happy, well adjusted, and free from any developmental difficulties. This sets parents up for harsh judgment of themselves or their children, resulting in sure
failure. Instead, child development must be understood as an interplay of biological and social-environmental factors. Parents of a child struggling with hyperactivity, attention deficit, addiction, mental illness, or other developmental challenges should be acutely aware of the biological factors that play a major role in their child’s struggle.