By Dr. Alan Winder
A good parent is a guide and a safety net. Parenting researchers find that the most successful children have parents who use an “authoritative” style. This is a style that maintains a balance between the two extremes of control. One extreme is “authoritarian,” which involves excessive control, punishment, rigidity, lack of flexibility, etc., and often results in rebelliousness, low self-esteem, anger, and anxiety. The opposite extreme, “permissiveness,” is characterized by extreme lack of rules/boundaries and allows the child to do whatever he wants with no consequences–this leads to confusion because the child does not learn rules and does not feel comfortable or secure in life as a result.
Authoritative parenting sets clear rules, along with clear consequences for both positive and negative behaviors, and encourages communication between parent and child to establish, understand, and maintain these boundaries. This provides structure without being stifling and allows for healthy experimentation and growth.
An analogy: a seatbelt in a car. A good seatbelt will feel comfortable–not too tight, not too loose. When things are fine and the car is operating normally, it is flexible, allows free movement, and constantly adjusts its level of tightness based on a person’s movement. But if something catastrophic happens and the car suddenly stops short or gets hit, it instantly tightens and becomes completely locked and immovable, holding the passenger back from smashing forward, and possibly saving her life.
The authoritative style of parenting allows the child to actively experiment more, because the child knows that the parent is always watching, “has his back,” and will prevent him from going too far. And the more experimentation a child is able to do, the more confident and successful she will likely be throughout life.
Another analogy: this dynamic is similar to a rock-climbing wall–climbers are more likely to take more chances and try riskier moves when they are suspended from a safety-rope harness than if they are not. It’s a feeling of safety that allows caution to be lowered. v
Dr. Winder is a clinical psychologist in practice in Cedarhurst. He accepts some insurance plans. He can be reached at 516-345-0456 or DrWinder@ITSPsych.com. This article in its entirety appears on his blog, www.ITSPsych.com/parenting .