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The Big Answer


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A Systems Perspective of Parenting: The Individual, the Family, and the Social Network

a book by Thomas W. Roberts

(our site's book review)

This is a valuable and comprehensive book on parenting methods. It advocates systems parenting as opposed to any other method, such as Adlerian, S.T.E.P., P.E.T., authoritarian, permissive, and behaviorism. The systems parenting advocates consider that the only proper context for family problems is the whole system—the family and its associated social network, which probably involves kin and teachers.

Note: In this parenting book, P.E.T. comes under the heading of Humanistic Parenting (although the author of Moral Politics, George Lakoff, would classify P.E.T. as Harmonious Parenting). Neither would call it Authoritative Parenting, but it can be thought of as authoritative parenting without the logical consequences, which Gordon considers too punitive. Gordon is right to advocate avoidance of logical consequences—to the degree that one can make natural consequences function effectively enough. But as Louise Hart (author of The Winning Family) has pointed out, sometimes the world simply doesn’t offer adequate opportunities or context for this method, and you find yourself needing a nonpunitive logical consequences back-up plan. She also will opt for natural consequences rather than logical consequences whenever possible. On this website , we call P.E.T. Authoritative Lite.

Roberts has written a book not to be ignored by anyone interested in parenting. But in spite of the fact that he advocates systems parenting and not any other type, his book alone is enough to dissuade most parents from ever even trying systems parenting. Here are the weaknesses one will detect as one carefully reads this book, weaknesses that represent barriers to parents getting involved in this method, and reasons why relatively easy methods like P.E.T. are a better way to go:

But there are many positive aspects of systems parenting:

One is tempted to blurt out “Doctor, heal thyself,” in encountering a systems-obsessed book that comes to some obvious systems-based conclusions in its analysis of parenting methods, but misses the most important conclusion of all when it comes to prescribing preventatives and cures for family dysfunctionality. But, since the purpose of Roberts’ book is as a university textbook for parenting courses at either the graduate or undergraduate level, and it does a good job of summarizing the issues involved, it should not be expected to be more than it is. It is a good first try at integrating systems thought and parenting. It is not a revelation that will turn the world of parenting around or transform the dysfunctional into the functional due to its magic formulas. It is a good springboard for parenting issues thinking, however.

It is also not a comprehensive parenting method that seriously challenges authoritative or humanistic/harmonious parenting methods because of its great wisdom or effectiveness. It would be wise for Roberts and/or his associates to engage in P.E.T. and/or Authoritative Parenting in their own homes and find out why it works so well—and then go back and rewrite this book based on the fact that the other methods could use more holistic perspectives and systems thinking. But until the steep-gradient versus flat-gradient insight hits the systems parenting people and wakes them to the fact that system enhancement and system acceptance are very different concepts, they should hold off the revision.

Since few parents will be able to meet the challenge of becoming systems experts, his system will require bureaucracies to send out their experts, which will be cost-prohibitive to either parents or social program administrators or both
Since few parents will be able to meet the challenge of becoming systems experts, his system will require bureaucracies to send out their experts, which will be cost-prohibitive to either parents or social program administrators or both