Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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I spent this afternoon running a workshop for teachers in a west of Scotland primary school and it brought home yet again for me how difficult teachers jobs are these days as a result of changing parenting styles.
Psychologists commonly categorise parenting styles into four according to whether parents are warm or cold and soft or firm. Old fashioned parenting (cold and firm) was authoritarian: the parent was boss and ordered the child to do things often because it suited the parent not necessarily because it was good for the child.
The opposite style of parenting is called indulgent or permissive. It is warm, loving and child centred but the parent is soft and doesn’t set clear rules or boundaries. When parents say that their child is their ‘best friend’ you can tell that they fit into this category.
The third parenting style is often referred to as neglectful as it also soft but cold rather than loving and does not meet the child’s emotional needs. Their physical needs too can be neglected.
The fourth style is authoritative – loving, warm and child centred. This type of parent wants to encourage the child’s independence and responsibility but doesn’t act as if the child knows what is best. For example, authoritative parents monitor and restrict access to screens, ensure the child respects bed times, and impose rules about staying out with friends. Unlike authoritarian parents, however, this type of parent will listen to the child’s point of view and is prepared to negotiate.
Across the western world authoritarian parenting has fallen out of favour. Scotland is no exception. I know from running lots of workshops where I discussed with people how they were brought up that many were now reacting to their authoritarian parenting. Sadly few seemed to have moved to being authoritative: from what they said it was much more common for them to become indulgent. This is partly why youngsters aren’t routinely getting enough sleep or exercise, have faddy diets, and stare at screens much longer than is good for them.
If you talk to folk who work in the catering industry they will tell you how horrified they often are by parents’ behaviour: they will often let their kids run about in coffee shops, for example, endangering people in the process yet the parents don’t want to tell their children off. It isn’t that they like their kids doing this but they want the staff to control their children for them.
As standards of behavior have declined or disappeared altogether from homes many parents want schools and teachers to control and discipline their children. Some teachers today recounted stories of parents asking the teacher to discipline, or at least talk seriously to, the child about things that had happened outside of school. However, teachers also recounted that when children do something wrong and get told off then it is commonplace for a parent to complain and always assume that their child can do no wrong.
Indulgent parenting also takes the form of doing everything for your child and not expecting them to do much for themselves. From what I learned today it is becoming commonplace for young boys not to be able to tie their shoe laces because their parents always does that for them. Outdoor educators have also told me it is common for youngsters to go away on trips not having packed their own bag and being clueless about what kit they have with them. One woman recently told me that she was interviewing young employed folk and one nineteen year old explained that he was late for the intervew because his mother hadn't set the alarm and got him up in time.
The problem with indulgent parenting isn’t that it is irksome for teachers and those having to deal with youngsters. That’s the least of it: it isn’t good for kids themselves. Lots of research has shown that the best type of parenting for young people’s happiness, emotional health and academic success is authoritative.
One fairly recent study (2010) from the USA showed that whether a youngster drinks alcohol or not isn’t influenced by their parents.However, whether a teenager drinks heavily is greatly influenced by his or her parents’ style. This survey didn’t look at neglectful parenting – only the other three. It showed that the teenagers who were least likely to drink heavily had parents who scored on both accountability and warmth – ie they were authoritative. Teenagers with indulgent parents were three times more at risk of heavy drinking. Those with authoritarian parents were twice as likely to drink as those with authoritative parents.
It is commonplace to see A. S. Neill and Summerhill as providing the rationale and inspiration for permissive child rearing. Undoubtedly the school gave children a great deal of freedom to decide for themselves, including what they learned. But Summerhill actually has always had a lot of rules; the only difference is that these rules are made by the pupils themselves. They also decide the punishments.
Interestingly in 2004 A. S. Neill’s daughter, Zoe Neill Readhead, announced that the school had become much more disciplinarian. 'Parents do not want the discipline and repression they had, but they do not know what they do want. What we see in society is often a lot of spoilt brats’, she said. Adding: 'Living in a community as we do, you have to learn how to behave. You cannot do what you want, you cannot do what you like. Children are used to having DVDs and computers and TVs in their rooms. Some are coming into school and saying, "Why can't I do that, I am allowed to do it at home?"'
So hats off to teachers who spend their professional lives trying to navigate this minefield.