Abstract: The initial years of an individual’s life is considered to be one of the most important periods of development. It is said that those children are like sponges- they absorb everything. Parents are the primary contacts of children and thus, the manner in which a parent or caregiver interacts with a child has a huge impact on the child. These impacts can be both short term as well as long term. Parenting style affects all aspects of the child right from the way they think to the way they dress and speak. This paper will look at the various parenting styles and it’s impact on children. In order to do that, the paper will explore the four different types of parenting styles based on Baumrind’s theory while analysing the influence of each of the styles on the child, along with looking at the factors that affect parenting styles employed by parents. It will also look at cultural variations in parenting with a focus on India.
Introduction: Parents have what can easily be called the hardest job in the world. Children go through a number of changes while growing up including biological, emotional, cognitive and social changes (Kopko, 2007). It is essential for a parent to strike the correct balance by ensuring discipline and maturity while providing a warm and responsive environment (Bornstein, 2007). An individual’s parenting style is often influenced by their parent’s style of parenting or the parenting style they have been exposed to, by peers, by experts or even by popular culture or the latest fads. If a parent has given birth previously, their parenting style towards their second born will also be influenced by the experience they have had while parenting their first born. Sometimes the advice from these various sources can clash and thus achieving that balance can be a struggle for parents; particularly those experiencing parenthood for the first time.
Baumrind’s Theory of Parenting Styles
In the 1960’s, psychologist Diana Baumrind came up with four different styles of parenting based on observation and analyses – authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and neglectful or uninvolved. These styles were categorised based on mainly two aspects of parenting behaviour- parental control and parental warmth. Parental control refers to “the degree to which parents manage their children’s behaviour” ranging from very controlling to being lax with setting rules and demands (Kopko, 2007). Parental warmth, on the other hand, refers to “the degree to which parents are accepting and responsive of their children’s behaviour” (Kopko, 2007).
Authoritative parents are firm with their children but are warm at the same time. They set certain rules for their children but are open to discussion and reasoning. They have high expectations from their children and encourage their children to be independent within their limits (Kopko, 2007). Such parents are also known to use systems of rewards to appreciate a job well done and motivate their child. Observation and analyses show that when parents adopt this method of parenting, the child is able to negotiate and hold discussions better as they are used to expressing themselves during discussions with parents. Because their opinions and ideas are taken seriously at home, they realise that their opinions are important and are considered. This makes them more socially aware and responsible (Kopko, 2007).
Authoritarian parents, on the other hand, exercise heavy control on their children and are not warm towards their wards. They develop a system of punishments to correct any undesired behaviour. This style of parenting is restrictive and it is often “either their way or the high way.” Rules are set without consulting with the child and no discussions are entertained. Very little independence is encouraged and research showed that such children either tend to be submissive and overly dependent on their parents or rebel and show aggressive tendencies (Kopko, 2007).
The third style of parenting, permissive parenting is characterised by parents that are extremely warm and passive. Such parents do not demand much from their child and have a hard time saying no to their child due to fear of displeasing them. The parents are not active in the decision-making aspects of the child’s life and consequently, the child takes many important decisions on their own. They merely dole out advice to their child but the final decision is ultimately taken by the child. Such children do not understand the concept of consequences and take them very lightly. They are not used to being denied which results in them having problems with self-control. They relationship with other peers also gets affected because they tend to develop ego issues and can come across as egoistic (Kopko, 2007).
Lastly, neglectful parents are neither warm nor do they have any demands from their children. They are uninvolved in the business of their child and interact with their child only if necessary. They are indifferent towards the feelings and whereabouts of their child and tend to be busy in their own life or self-centred. Such parents do not take into account the ideas and opinions of their children. Such a parenting style usually is a result of the parent either having ‘given up’ or an outcome of frustration or fatigue on the part of the parent (Kopko, 2007). Children of such parents show behaviours like those of children of permissive parents.
Various factors affect the parenting style chosen by the caregivers. Both parents, if there are two; might not employ the same parenting style. For instance, a mother could be permissive and the father could be authoritarian. It is essential that the parents find a way to work together and compromise their method of parenting during certain situations in order to garner a positive outcome. Both parents openly disagreeing while taking decisions related to the child could lead to conflict and the child could take advantage of such a situation. For example, if the father says that the child is not allowed to go for a party but they mother says yes; the child will still end up going despite the father warning the child against it because the mother will ensure no punishment is meted out. The behaviour of the child also has an impact on the parenting style. For instance, a rebellious and defiant child would result in their parents either exercising extreme control (authoritarian parenting style) in order to straighten out the child; or neglecting the child (uninvolved parenting style) simply because the parents have given up and are tired. A self-motivated and cooperative child, on the other hand, would lead to their parents employing a more authoritative parenting style and building a good rapport with their child (Kopko, 2007). Other internal factors like lack of sleep and mood of the parents and external factors like job responsibilities, financial constraints and stress may also affect the parenting style employed (Kopko, 2007).
While there is no one parenting style that is the best and most suitable style, based on research; psychologists believe that the authoritative parenting style is the most beneficial style. They claim that this style is the most flexible and strikes the right balance between parental control and parental warmth (Kopko, 2007). Children raised by authoritative parents generally show the most positive outcomes and have a healthy relationship with their parents even after they become adults. However, it is important to understand that many factors come into play with regard to child-rearing, cultural variations being a key factor. Keeping in mind the cultural influences over the family is imperative. Authoritative parenting styles might not be the most suitable style to employ for children from varied ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Previous research shows that authoritative styles work best for the ‘white, middle-class child form a nuclear family’, while it might not be the most suitable option for children growing up with certain societal and economic restraints (Bornstein & Bornstein, 2007). It was found that when a child lives in a safe area, allowing them some amount of freedom and flexibility will augur well for the child and positive outcomes will follow. However, that might not be the case for a child living in a high-risk environment. A child living in such an environment would require a higher degree of control (Bornstein & Bornstein, 2007). For example, for a young white boy growing up in a nuclear family of three in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California; an authoritative style of parenting will assure positive outcomes from the child. Here, the child is privileged in not being subject to racial or gender biases and grows up in a safe neighbourhood. Since his parents are clearly economically stable to live in such a neighbourhood, there are no socio-economic pressures on the family. Take the example of a young Asian girl, on the other hand, growing up in a trailer park without a father. The child is subject to racial as well as gender biases. The girl’s mother struggles with finances and works two jobs to put a meal on the table. Such a parenting style will not work here. Instead, a combination of parenting styles would be required to achieve success.
Authoritarian parenting styles are usually employed by parents belonging to the ethnic minority brackets. Such a parenting style generally relates to lower positive outcomes, however, when employed by such minority groups like Asian and African families, they tend to generate positive social outcomes. Setting certain rigid goals and being firm with their wards works best for such families and can be seen in terms of higher academic success; something Asians so greatly value (Bornstein & Bornstein, 2007). A major chunk of ethnic minority families live in dangerous neighbourhoods that pose several risks and safety is a big issue. This requires parents to set strict rules and curfews despite resistance from their children because that is the safer option. Authoritative parenting style in such a situation would not be as beneficial as an authoritarian style of parenting (Kopko, 2007).
In a country like India, elders are severely respected. Our culture makes us believe that elders know best and that what they say is always correct. In our culture, age is directly proportional to wisdom and intellect and so the older one is, the better he/she knows by virtue of having ‘experienced more.’ With regard to this, defying our parents’ wishes is almost considered a sin and is frowned upon. Most of our parents grew up with strict parents that did not allow any flexibility and we often hear our parents telling us that they were never allowed to do what we are allowed today. Since their parents were authoritarian and most of their peer’s parents were the same, they believe that is the most effective style of parenting and a sure formula for success and employ the same strategies on their children as well. Indian parents like most parents everywhere have huge aspirations for their children and so they believe setting high and rigid standards for their children will result in positive outcomes.
Choosing the correct parental style is crucial to ensure the positive development of a child. Parenting is a complex subject and various factors affect it. One must not blindly adopt a style of parenting just because their peers are following it or simply follow the latest trends when it comes to parenting. A good parent will keep in mind the need of the child and the family while taking decisions. There is no optimal parenting style that applies equally for all situations and circumstances. There is no sure-shot formula for success and a parent must adapt to the changing needs of the child based on the situation. While a single parenting style could work perfectly for one family, a combination of parenting styles might be required for another. Any parent who has the right intentions in mind and is willing to be flexible and make changes can find success while maintaining a strong bond with their children.
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