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Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs
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The Big Answer


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Beyond Parental Control and Authoritarian Parenting Style

an article by Ruth K. Chao

(our site's article review)

This study shows that the reason that Chinese kids do well in school in China, in spite of their apparently authoritarian upbringing, has to do with the issue of “training.” (European-Americans don’t do as well in school when they are raised in authoritarian homes, and do better when raised authoritatively.)

The concepts of authoritarian and authoritative are apparently ethnocentric in that they do not capture the important features of Chinese child-raising such as the fact that Chinese mothers “train” their kids a lot more than do non-Chinese. The type of parenting they do is not exactly authoritarian according to American definitions, but it’s the closest category we have—the one that fits best. This would tend to question the wisdom of trying to use American criteria without allowing for cultural differences. The “training” used includes features not dealt with in American measurement instruments with American procedures, so without creating custom-made instruments for this special group, insight and understanding about this type of parenting are not likely to develop.

Note: Shanghai ranks first in math, reading and science among 15- and 16-year-olds, while the United States ranked 36th. (Source: Shanghai teens top international education ranking, OECD says, Sophie Brown, CNN, 2013.) We assume that "training" is again the deciding factor.

However, Authoritative parenting among immigrant Chinese mothers of preschoolers showed that Chinese immigrant mothers of young children preferred authoritative parenting styles and their children got better outcomes than with other parenting styles.

This tends to support the overall conclusion that even though authoritarian-raised Chinese kids do well in school, when they immigrate, they do fine with authoritative methods, since mothers that move here try to have their kids fit in with other kids, who often do not have as strict of an upbringing. Chinese people respect learning and education and they’d quickly be able to determine that parenting experts almost all champion authoritative methods over others as the best for kids, parents, and families in general.

Chinese teen studying
Chinese teen studying

Furthermore, just because kids do well in school in China does not show that their authoritarian upbringing is best for them personally, for their psyche, for their psychological well-being. The up side of “training” is that kids get lots of attention from moms. This makes them want to do well in school, as does the concept of family honor. But the downside of authoritarian upbringing is extensive, and can be seen in various places, such as these books (and the references in the back): Gordon’s Discipline That Works and Alvy’s Parent Training Today, and Kohn's Beyond-Discipline.

For other study results involving the comparison of authoritative parenting and other types of parenting styles, see these authors on our website: Gauvain, Baumrind, Maccoby, Lewis, Aunola, Brassington, Hill, Larzelere, Shucksmith, Chao, Ramsey, Strage, Peterson, Fletcher, Gray, Steinberg, Lamborn, Society for the Advancement of Education, Johnson Publishing Company Inc., Berg, Snowden, McIntyre, and Slicker.

Then see our comments on books and/or articles by these authors: Lakoff, Gould, Pugh, Critzer, Popkin, Dinkmeyer, Gordon, Faber, Dreikurs, Solter, Prinz, Kvols, and Nelsen, keeping in mind that this is just the first author listed—many works have more authors and these are listed as well in each of our references.

Next, check out the real courses (begin with Internet searches) that teach various forms of authoritative and democratic parenting, like P.E.T., STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting), Winning Family Lifeskills, Positive Discipline, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, and Positive Parenting, the Ginott method (see our comments on the Faber and Mazlish book Liberated Parents Liberated Children), Dreikur’s democratic parenting (see our comments on his Happy Children book), and Active Parenting.

Finally, it should be noted that parents can influence children's intellectual development—and other types of development as well (e.g., Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ). See Parenting the Young Gifted Child: Supportive Behaviors, Impact of Parenting Practices on Adolescent Achievement, Over Time Changes in Adjustment and Competence Among Adolescents from Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful Families, Parenting Styles and Adolescent Development, Parenting Styles and Adolescents' Achievement Strategies, Patterns of Competence and Adjustment Among Adolescents from Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful Families, Discipline That Works, Social Development: Psychological Growth And The Parent-Child Relationship, Toward a Psychology of Being, The Relation of Parenting Style to Adolescent School Performance, Unpacking Authoritative Parenting: Reassessing a Multidimensional Construct, and Quality Day Care, Early, Is Tied to Achievements as an Adult.