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Authoritative and Democratic Parenting Programs
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The Big Answer


To link to this article from your blog or webpage, copy and paste the url below into your blog or homepage.

Self Reported Narcissism and Perceived Parental Permissiveness and Authoritarianism

an article by Angela Ramsey and P. J. Watson and Michael D. Biderman

(our site's article review)

In this study, inadequate parenting was linked to higher narcissistic tendencies in 370 undergraduate students. Either strongly permissive or strongly authoritarian parents correlated with higher narcissism scores in their young. On the other hand, better-raised students—those with more authoritative parents—were less likely to be narcissistic. The study concluded that efforts to link weak parenting with authoritarianism or permissiveness have merit and deserve additional research attention.

A narcissist
A narcissist

The biggest problem with such studies is, of course, that it would be very difficult to ascertain just how authoritarian or permissive these students’ parents actually were, so the researchers had to rely on the students’ attitudes and memories. No one met any parents. And even if a researcher had been placed in each home for careful on-site scientific observations, one would get mostly Observer Effect (the observer influencing the observed), rather than valid parenting facts.

Extensive interviews of all parents by highly trained psychologists would be required to be totally certain about study results—and that would be prohibitively time-consuming, expensive, and unfeasible anyway. The latter is so because many parents would be either unavailable or uncooperative. But—worst of all—many parents can be predicted to represent themselves as how they feel they should be rather than as how they are. In truth, many parents are confused about how strict or lenient they are compared to others, what comprises overcontrol, and what the relationship between themselves and their young really is like. Various studies in cognitive science show that there if often a great disparity between what people believe about their lives and what is so about their lives.

Having said all this, the study, within the boundaries of its inherent limitations, indicates that authoritative parenting produces the best character in children. This result is consistent with many decades of other studies demonstrating the superiority of authoritative parenting.

Diana Baumrind’s often-cited studies from the 60s and 70s were exceptionally well-run and highly accepted and acclaimed, demonstrating to the world that authoritative (and democratic) parenting is much better and more effective than either authoritarian or permissive parenting (even if she messed up in her interpretation of the need for firm control). To study even more reasons to use authoritative parenting, when millions of authoritative, democratic families around the world have already demonstrated beyond question for several decades that authoritativeness is the superior strategy, could be looked on as redundant, but there are several reasons to do so:

First, the “spare the rod, and spoil the child” Religious Right and “profits by any means” media have run an orchestrated campaign for decades to cloud the issue and make it seem that either (a) the authoritarian way has been shown to be best or at least effective, or (b) the jury is not in yet and the best way to parent is simply a matter of opinion. This is scientifically ludicrous, of course, since the facts about this have been proven beyond question. But the media, invariably, in order to get ratings, puts authoritarians and authoritatives (or even permissives) up against one another on talk shows so as to generate controversy, appear “balanced,” and create the artificial drama of heated debate—which sells toothpaste, iPhones, and cars. So the public’s perception of parenting is that the experts in the science are all evenly split, that it’s all just a matter of opinion, and doing what one feels is best (via one’s “parenting instincts”) is the smart way to go, since the experts all disagree anyway. This is sad, since true parenting experts do not disagree.

Public perception of parenting is that the experts in the science are all evenly split, that it’s all just a matter of opinion—all of which they glean from watching talk show 'debates'
Public perception of parenting is that the experts in the science are all evenly split, that it’s all just a matter of opinion—all of which they glean from watching talk show 'debates'

Actually, this is not only not a smart way to go, it is a foolish way. But it’s not the parents’ fault that they don’t know any better—it’s the media’s and the Religious Right’s, who keep the Culture War on simmer for their own purposes. The result is that cultural progress is in a permanent stall.

Suggestion: For those who actually wish to go the smart way, follow the science, the knowledge, and the facts. We did. They led to the fact that authoritative parenting has been validated as best by far. In the Knowledge Age and the Third Wave, we should utilize the world’s best knowledge in making lifestyle and parenting decisions, rather than letting the media or the Religious Right lead us down the garden path to ignorance. Remember, each of us is responsible to seek out and utilize the knowledge we need to guide our lives, in the Third Wave. Schools may give us hyper-diluted Pablum that represents the stalemate of Culture War forces’ pressures on school boards, so we don’t learn good parenting skills there; and the media may give us hot-button “crossfire” programs that represent a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing (except profit motives), so we don’t learn good parenting skills there either. But the knowledge one needs can be obtained easily, if one persists.

In the Knowledge Age, we should utilize the world’s best knowledge in making lifestyle and parenting decisions, rather than letting the media or the Religious Right lead us down the garden path to ignorance
In the Knowledge Age, we should utilize the world’s best knowledge in making lifestyle and parenting decisions, rather than letting the media or the Religious Right lead us down the garden path to ignorance

Smart people worked for years to collect, integrate and report this knowledge, and hundreds of bright and wise (a few were not wise and a few were only partially wise, but their work was still important to examine and learn from) authors and researchers gave humankind their best thinking over the past century or so, so that you could understand the world and its people better and have a better life as a result. A better life includes one that copes well with Third Wave realities, one in which relationship and connection are enhanced, one in which community and democracy are strengthened and preserved, one in which learning is natural and curiosity and creativity are stimulated, one in which family is once again built upon strong and viable foundations as well as supported by its immediate neighborhood, and one in which the young are nurtured towards autonomy and self-actualization and a happy life.

Our website adds up to an integrated collection of the knowledge people need to understand what’s going on and also know what to do about it to not only make their lives function optimally, but to help the world work as well. Individuals choosing better lives are the target of this knowledge, not politicians choosing social engineering strategies. We, not others, are responsible for our lives working. Our lives are not society’s problem. Society is our problem. To be at cause is to be; to be at effect is not to be.

Second, adding to the confusion is the conflict between behaviorists, attribution theorists, nature-nurture controversy debaters in the form of environmental and genetic determinists, and developmental psychologists. The gun-smoke in these battles has managed to obscure the real facts for even many psychological professionals, so how can the public possibly know what is hype and what is true?

Third, how can the public ever see the scientific truths when people who ought to know better like Fitzhugh Dodson and T. Berry Brazelton (the latter gets lots of air time on TV) allow spankings to be part of the parental toolbox in spite of tons of evidence against it, when the behaviorists proclaim rewards and punishments to be valid child-rearing strategies in spite of the reams of evidence of its inferiority compared to democratic parenting strategies, and when the Religious Right publishes countless authoritarian tomes proselytizing corporal punishment in families and schools as well as pressuring school boards to accept such ideas in schools? In summary: Democratic parents are outnumbered, outspent, and outgunned.

Foolish parenting spokespersons allow spankings to be part of the parental toolbox in spite of tons of evidence against it
Foolish parenting spokespersons allow spankings to be part of the parental toolbox in spite of tons of evidence against it

Finally, it is essential that more evidence continues to accumulate on parenting strategies, so the misinformation can be exposed and the real science recognized, and so the public can finally get a clear and honest, unbiased perspective on the realities of parenting knowledge in this country, rather than propaganda reflecting Culture War agendas. Many parents would soil their undergarments in amazement if they were suddenly made aware of the millions of parents who have joined the happy and effective democratic parenting movement and who are succeeding with their kids on a daily basis—and watching their competent, cooperative, intelligent, happy children grow and thrive. They would demand to know why it was that all those millions of parents have it so good (courtesy of P.E.T., Winning Family Lifeskills, S.T.E.P., Dreikurs’ democratic parenting, Aware Parenting, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, Positive Parenting, Positive Discipline, Unconditional Parenting, the Ginott Method, etc.) and they, themselves haven’t even been told about any of this in schools or in the media, so they continue to endure frustration and disappointment in their families as a result of being either utterly uninformed or seriously misinformed!

A happy child—the result of using thhe democratic parenting movement
A happy child—the result of using thhe democratic parenting movement

One problem is that when partially correct (but punitive) methods such as Fitzhugh Dodson’s How to Discipline with Love: From Crib to College, Foster Cline’s and Jim Fay’s Parenting with Love and Logic, or Brazelton’s well-known parenting method are utilized, people get better results than with plain old permissive, authoritarian, or mixed parenting, so they accept their "expert’s" entire method as valid and consider the improvement proof of such method’s validity. Such experts and the parents that listen to them together feel that said improvements are sufficient validation for their methods.

Another problem is that political conservatives have thwarted efforts to fund family and parenting research (see the comments on Morton Hunt’s The New Know-Nothings), and so clear comparisons between the effectiveness of democratic parenting and all other methods are hard to come by. (However, millions of democratic parents have themselves made such comparisons after switching from win-lose to win-win democratic methods, so the difference in effectiveness in these methods is well-known.)

Yet another problem is that since so many of the democratic parents were raised in win-lose autocratic and/or permissive homes, they bring a lot of emotional baggage with them to the parenting arena and as a result sometimes revert to childhood conditioning by lapses into autocratic or permissive parenting. And this phenomenon also serves to contaminate the data in any study they participate in, since they’re only partially democratic parents.

Considering all of the above, is it any wonder that in the Information Age, with the reams of knowledge from all the human developmental, sociological, and psychological sciences at our disposal, the average parent is more confused than ever, and his kids reflect that confusion?

The average parent is more confused than ever about parenting, and his or her kids reflect that confusion
The average parent is more confused than ever about parenting, and his or her kids reflect that confusion

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 these books: (and the references in the back) Gordon’s Discipline That Works and Alvy’s Parent Training Today. 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. Finally, check out the real courses (begin with Internet searches) that teach various forms of authoritative and democratic parenting, like P.E.T., STEP, Winning Family Lifeskills, Positive Parenting, Positive Discipline, Redirecting Children’s Behavior, 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.