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Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs
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The Big Answer


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Parent Training Today

a book by Kerby Alvy

(our site's book review)

Alvy contends that most of our country’s most pressing and depressing problems can be traced back to breakdowns in the family and in child/parent relationships. His book shows how parent training (programs, videos, books, etc.) helps with these problems. It offers guidelines for how various segments of society (media, churches, schools, businesses, government) can work together to provide the parent training that is necessary for survival and achievement in the 21st century. It is a call to action. Alvy is a clinical child psychologist and parent training expert. He’s Executive Director for the Center for the Improvement of Child Caring (CICC), which is a California research and training organization that creates, delivers and disseminates model parent training programs, including P.E.T., S.T.E.P., and the Confident Parenting program delivered by CICC. (The Confident Parenting program is mostly P.E.T. and S.T.E.P. and a couple of errors: using commands and power and using time-out punishments.) The book discusses the rapidly changing family contexts in society, new challenges for contemporary parents, the benefits of parent training for individuals, families and communities, and various programs offered to parents.

Alvy looks at dozens of studies on parent training effectiveness and concludes that “The majority of parents who participate learn and apply the child-rearing skills, strategies and outlooks that are needed for effective contemporary parenting. As a result, the behavior of their children is improved and families are strengthened. . . . The majority made significant changes in their child-rearing attitudes and practices. They became more accepting, understanding and respectful of their children and of their children’s unique characteristics. They engaged in more positive parenting practices, and either reduced or totally stopped using negative physical and verbal means to control their children’s behavior. Overall, they became more positive, authoritative, involved, competent and confident in their leadership of the family.” He also says that “. . . national surveys . . . revealed that the more frequently corporal punishment and verbal aggression were used, the more at risk children were for immediate mental health, academic and legal problems, and for subsequent health, family and career problems.” And since parent training reduces punishment strategies, it plays a significant part in dealing with our nation’s problems, says Alvy. The programs reinforce democratic parenting values and family relationships.

Corporal punishment leads to immediate mental health, academic and legal problems, and subsequent health, family and career problems—Alvy avoids it
Corporal punishment leads to immediate mental health, academic and legal problems, and subsequent health, family and career problems—Alvy avoids it

This book shows many tables of the specifics of every aspect of parent training results. It also details many of the studies that have been done on parent training courses. Authoritative parenting is by far the most effective parenting method, and the only one taught by knowledgeable professionals. It leads to self-esteem, cooperation, mental and social competence, less narcissism, etc. There are literally dozens of other benefits listed. Today’s kids need much more knowledge and many more skills than did previous generations’ kids. The modern, future-shocked world has new dangers as well as new opportunities.

Even brief parenting programs, videos and TV programs turned out to be quite beneficial to families. Even abusive parents made positive changes as a result of parenting program exposure.

“We now have the parent training technology to bring about fundamental changes in how families operate, and we now have the research results to demonstrate it.” The problem is that “. . . only a tiny minority of America’s parents have ever taken the programs.” This minority turns out to be 5 percent. “Given that these programs are so effective and given that all parents need them, we have a long way to go.” Here is Alvy’s Blueprint for a Safer and Better America:

  1. Train and Support More Parenting Instructors
  2. Raise Public Awareness about Effective Contemporary Parenting and the Need for Parent Training
  3. Saturate Communities with Parent Training Programs and Information
  4. Organize Parents into Mutual Support and Advocacy Clubs

The implications of the Third Wave and the knowledge age are not lost on Alvy: “It doesn’t do a great deal of good to have the information about healthy child development and effective parenting in the hands of a select group of college educated people. It needs to be shared with millions of people from all walks of life. It needs to be common knowledge so that we as a country have high and well-informed standards towards which to strive as we raise the next generation.” People need to be resourceful, find the knowledge they need and utilize it, and keep their eyes peeled for the next leap in knowledge and refinement in order to keep up with a constantly changing world. One cannot keep up if one finds strategies that work early in life and then closes off to new possibilities. The strategies of years ago may be very inappropriate today, just as typewriters needed to be traded for computers in the 80s.

And one cannot afford to assume that how one’s parents raised one must be fine, and therefore it will work great when one has kids oneself. In truth, many of us turn out okay in spite of our upbringings, not because of them! Parenting like your parents parented you is—for most—a very serious error.

Parenting like your parents parented you is—for most—a very serious error
Parenting like your parents parented you is—for most—a very serious error

The Third Wave and the dizzying rates of change it entails do not have to be experienced as chaos if one accommodates oneself to them. But if one fights them, one will be left in the dust, eventually. Companies that tried to stay Second Wave perished; those that changed are now Third Wave successes. Similarly, as the win-lose, authoritarian parenting and patriarchal families of the First and Second Waves are replaced by the win-win, authoritative, democratic parenting patterns and family equality arrangements of the Third Wave, those that stay stuck in the past (e.g., many of the families of the Religious Right) are doomed to experience various degrees of dysfunction if not outright failure. The overall dysfunctionality statistics of our society today reflect-as Alvy says-more than anything else the failure of the delivery of current parenting knowledge to the populace so they can do what works rather than tripping over erroneous beliefs and practices and wallowing in utterly unnecessary ignorance.

The repression of social science by the Religious Right leads to ignorant, authoritarian parenting errors
The repression of social science by the Religious Right leads to ignorant, authoritarian parenting errors

Good parenting will do much more than lower crime rates, boost the economy, keep us safer, keep teen pregnancy rates down, diminish drug and alcohol use, and improve educational readiness. It will make people happier, healthier, smarter, and wiser.

The book is confusing with regards to consequences training. It says S.T.E.P. uses logical and natural consequences but P.E.T. refuses to “manage consequences.” Actually, natural consequences are by definition unmanaged, and all authoritative parenting methods, including P.E.T., use natural consequences. P.E.T. and about 6 other methods reject logical consequences, however, and all other authoritative parenting methods use them.

He discusses the Confident Parenting program and the New Confident Parenting program. The former has more reliance on conditioning, rewards and punishments (which we reject), while the latter relies more on cognitive methods, consequence training and examples to emulate (which we like). In other words, it obviously realized the advantages of the democratic parenting courses and incorporated some of their best ideas. No program advocated in his whole book allows either verbal aggressiveness or corporal punishment.

No program advocated in Alvy's whole book allows either verbal aggressiveness or corporal punishment
No program advocated in Alvy's whole book allows either verbal aggressiveness or corporal punishment

He also discusses Active Parenting, which is much like S.T.E.P. (including use of logical and natural consequences) but also includes some P.E.T. ideas. It’s video based.

Next, there’s the Haim Ginott-based How to Talk So Kids Will Listen program and the Siblings Without Rivalry program, both by Faber and Mazlish, authors of Liberated Parents Liberated Children and Siblings Without Rivalry. See our comments on Liberated Parents Liberated Children for more details.

There are various other ethnically-targeted programs, ones for alcoholism and drug abuse situations, ones for special needs kids, ones about our TV culture, ones for stepfamilies, ones for two-career families, and ones for self-esteem in Alvy’s book. See The Two-Paycheck Marriage, The Winning Family, Unconditional Parenting, and Revolution From Within.