It all started with a simple question posed by my older teen. I was shocked that he did not already know. Everyone should learn about horrors of history such as the Holocaust, in order that we may learn from the mistakes of others and prevent history from repeating itself. So I spent the next twenty minutes with my teens, engaged in discussion about the Holocaust. Which led to the next question: Why would the Nazi soldiers just kill innocent people?
Answer? They were just following orders. My kids were astonished. How is it possible that a human being would commit such atrocities to an innocent person, simply because someone told them to obey? Where was their personal integrity? Where was their sense of conscience?
Like most great discussions with my kids, their questions led me to introduce them to one of my favorite topics: The Long-Term Effects of Parenting Styles. (Yes, I probably broke some archaic unspoken rule by discussing parenting with the very children whom I parent. But what can I say? I’m a bit of a rebel. Blame it on my authoritarian upbringing).
Professionals usually refer to three common parenting styles, which can be characterized as follows:
High parental control and restrictiveness. Verbal hostility, fear techniques, punitive discipline strategies (spankings, threats, etc.). Most common among households with low SES and lower education levels of parent. “Obey me because I said so and know what’s best.”
High warmth and involvement, clear communication of expectations, reasoning, democratic participation, positive and proactive discipline strategies. Most common among middle class and affluent households and higher education levels of parent.
“You may choose what to do, but understand that your choices have natural consequences.”
Lax or inconsistent discipline, Overindulgence or indifference, a general ignorance of child misbehavior, “Laissez-faire,” lack of self-confidence about parenting. “Children will eventually find their own way.”
“Hey mom! You’re the authoritative type of parent,” said my 10yo, grinning. My other kids immediately agreed, to my great pleasure. You see, there are many longitudinal studies done on the impact of the three different parenting types, and an authoritative parenting style is the hands-down winner. The research consistently shows that children raised in authoritarian or permissive families have the worst long-term outcomes – behavior problems, aggression, depression and anxiety, obesity, poor academic performance, lower sense of personal responsibility, and so on.
“So what type of parenting style do you suppose may result in the type of person who would blindly obey the orders of their authority figure without protest or refusal?” I asked my kids, cycling the topic back around the horrors of the Holocaust.
They got the connection right away. “So basically,” said my oldest teen, “authoritarian parents are raising potential Nazis.”
Perhaps so, I responded. Perhaps it is that authoritarian parents do so without really thinking through the natural consequences of their parenting choices. Without proper education, so many people are like sheep, blindly following the masses, or in the footsteps of their own parents, regardless of whether their behavior is positive or negative. And so, sadly, history repeats itself.
MY CREDS: I hold a B.A. degree in Child Development (which included many hours of research and seminars on parenting). I am a former teacher of young children and current parent to three happy, well-adjusted, thoughtful kids/teens (who apparently still think I’m a great mom, so that’s a plus, too).
FURTHER READING ON THE IMPACTS OF PARENTING STYLES: