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The Big Answer

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Rejoinder to Lewis's Reinterpretation of Parental Firm Control. Effects: Are Authoritative Families Really Harmonious?

an article by Diana Baumrind

(our site's article review)

Although Baumrind admits that Lewis (The Effects of Parental Firm Control: A Reinterpretation of Findings) is right about excess parental control undermining internalization of parental values, she attempts to discredit Lewis’ questioning of Baumrind’s “parental firm control” concept as necessary in parenting. Baumrind’s response to Lewis’ insightful rethinking of this issue was disappointing at best.

She looks at the evidence that supports her position but looks the other way about evidence that contradicts it. This signifies that she’s graduated from objective scientist to Culture War warrior and think tank consultant for the political right. Conservatives are always dying for more science, or pseudoscience, that backs their pro-authoritarian positions on punishment, control of kids, male dominance, and obedience. Baumrind dislikes both permissive and authoritarian parenting, and has done much research herself and read much science from others that has proven to her how misguided and ineffective such methods are. But she keeps trying to get the world to accept her “tough love,” controlling-parent, win-lose version of authoritative parenting, but only the religious right and the conservative groups are doing so. She considers this divisive issue about parental firm control to be a friendly dialogue between firm-control-advocating socialization theorists like herself and firm-control-dismissing attribution theorists like Lewis. But she seems to be hearing only her own side of the argument.

The problem with her sticking with her punishment and firm-control position is that it blatantly ignores so much:

(a) Millions of P.E.T. people around the world have been getting results as good or better than her authoritative parental-firm-control results but without parental firm control—instead there is democratic, reciprocal, cooperative, win-win parent-child relationships in which kids learn self-control. She ignores all of this.

(b) Over and over attribution theorists and researchers are finding out the liabilities of the win-lose controlling context with regards to intrinsic interest, motivation and values and behavioral standards internalization, family harmony, happiness, and parental pressures. She rationalizes some of these, misunderstands others, and ignores the rest.

(c) Dr. Thomas Gordon’s book Discipline That Works, a 1989 book that gives hundreds of reasons why her firm-control, win-lose perspective is not needed. She needs to go through this book, point by point, and try to refute each point and each cited research result scientifically. She couldn’t. The science, as is becoming more obvious by the year, overwhelmingly supports Gordon’s position that one empowers kids to control themselves (by use of the tools of P.E.T.) rather than creating a constant context of enforced parental demands, punishments for noncompliance, and win-lose unilateral power. It’s amazing that she can so dislike authoritarian parenting and yet retain so many vestiges of its overall context. See also Beyond Discipline.

(d) It has become glaringly obvious that it is totally nonproductive for her or anyone else to continue to push win-lose control theories in view of all the facts. For instance, she freely admits in 1983, 1987, 1991 and 1996 that parents can relax controls and family power can be distributed evenly and democratically in a win-win fashion once kids get older, as long as her firm parental control methods have established good behavior rules early on. Essentially, this acknowledges that P.E.T. and Winning Family Lifeskills lifestyles, with win-win contexts and democratic power structures, are preferable to her “parental firm control” authoritative parenting lifestyle, that letting kids control themselves is better than controlling them, that win-win is a better and more appropriate context for the 21st century than win-lose, and that democratic parenting is the goal to shoot for. So why must she be so enamored with control, power, win-lose, demands, and compliance for kids under 12 years old, since she’d obviously rather not have lifestyles represent win-lose power structures if she can help it?

Why must Baumrind be so enamored with control, power, win-lose, demands, and compliance?
Why must Baumrind be so enamored with control, power, win-lose, demands, and compliance?

The answer is obviously that she truly believes that younger kids need this in order to learn to behave properly. The results of most research, experiences, parenting classes and seminars, etc., favor the Gordon, Hunt, Lakoff, Lewis and Hart position that she’s right about authoritative (and harmonious) parenting being better than authoritarian or permissive parenting, but she’s wrong to include all the demands, control, power games, win-lose and punishment as part of authoritative parenting. Others that have taken and used her parenting wisdom are mostly rejecting these aspects of her ideas as biases and anachronisms.

The exception, of course, is the Christian Right, who challenge parents to Dare to Discipline and spank and punish, and Cline and Fay do the same thing in Parenting With Love and Logic, deceiving the reader with the pretense of logical consequence discipline that is simply authoritarian oppression and power trips, and pushing parents to spank as well. The goal of this pretense is to act as though one doesn’t subscribe to harsh authoritarian parenting but then sneak it into the techniques anyway. More “stealth,” guys?

Baumrind is aiding those who would take us back to the Dark Ages and have the masses ruled by churches and bibles
Baumrind is aiding those who would take us back to the Dark Ages and have the masses ruled by churches and bibles

And this brings us to the really unfortunate part of her erroneous beliefs. They’re being misused by authoritarian abusers of children who take them as a license to use violence and force to control kids. And they’re aiding those who would take us back to the Dark Ages, dump the Enlightenment, and have the masses ruled by churches and bibles because it's “God’s will.” Baumrind's ideas are being twisted for ignorant, oppressive, anti-humanistic purposes, by people so ignorant and foolish they actually believe humanism is an evil movement run by Satan!

Why would she allow herself to play into the hands of the authoritarians? We can only guess. She rationalizes that if excess parental control undermines internalization of social norms, then this is an impetus to social transformation, and if less controlling types of parenting gets better values internalization in children then that isn’t necessarily good, because that merely “. . . represents the conservative force in society.” Following up on this absurdity, it implies that we should raise our kids with an excess of control so they’ll rebel and discard our obsolete values and create better ones, therefore improving society.

This exposes a basic flaw in her grasp of the concept of autonomy. She needs to consult Fromm, Riesman, Maslow, Hart, and Slater on the subject. The inner-directed are controlled by parent-instilled superegos and the other-directed are controlled by peer-group pressures. Both groups are conformists conforming to the expectations of others, not the intrinsic values evolved within themselves. Both groups are the result of the win-lose, controlling, unilateral-power-based and punishment utilizing parenting that both authoritarians and Baumrind Authoritatives subscribe to, while permissive parents usually produce other-directed kids exclusively. Therefore, not any of the three parenting types—Baumrind Authoritative, Permissive, or Authoritarian—will result in kids who are likely to grow up and evolve better values and help transform society in benevolent directions!

They’re conformists, as Riesman so clearly explains near the end of his The Lonely Crowd book. Autonomous people (the only type Riesman, Fromm, Maslow, Hart, Slater, et al. really admire) are not conformists. They evolve their own values, some of which are ahead of their time and some of which can and do help transform society. The most likely parenting method to produce this autonomy is P.E.T., Winning Family Lifeskills, or at least authoritative parenting without the use of excess win-lose parental control or punishment. In other words, democratic and/or harmonious parenting that is win-win, uses natural consequences instead of punishment (and sometimes the nonpunishment form of logical consequences), and has no-lose, win-win conflict resolution of some type.

In this article, she mostly just repeats her beliefs, citing a study or two that supports her position. There was no evidence that she gave serious thought to looking at things from a new perspective or examining the reams of evidence that keeps pouring in that counter her beliefs. This is in spite of the fact that she advocates P.E.T.-like relations with kids when you can get them, child-proofing (à la P.E.T.), active listening (à la P.E.T.), empowering kids for self-control (à la P.E.T.), supporting autonomy (à la P.E.T. and nearly every other expert in existence), etc.

Baumrind even supports spanking and even the use of the words 'good' and 'bad'!
Baumrind even supports spanking and even the use of the words 'good' and 'bad'!

She even supports spanking and even the use of the words “good” and “bad” if it’s deemed necessary! She doesn’t seem to realize that this is part of the authoritarian mindset, not the authoritative mindset, which she champions. This makes her basically an unintentional traitor to her own cause, and such an extremist position has made most of her serious readers choose to ignore (like so many did with Freud) her naïve and misguided ideas and, instead, focus on her more productive ideas. This has certainly been our approach. In all the discussions, we must never forget that she is the mother of the authoritative parenting concept, and deserves great credit for this.

Baumrind strayed off the path of optimal parenting wisdom, going off on a fork based half on authoriative parenting and half repressed authoritarian beliefs from her past
Baumrind strayed off the path of optimal parenting wisdom, going off on a fork based half on authoriative parenting and half repressed authoritarian beliefs from her past

The simplest analysis of Baumrind’s straying off the path of optimal parenting wisdom boils down to this: She has noticed, in the field, a lot of parents getting results better than other parents. The worst results came from authoritarian and permissive families. But good results came from families with and without parental firm control, even though she tried to rationalize out of that, in this current article, and in her 1996 article The Discipline Controversy Revisited.

In a world full of evidence for good results without a lot of win-lose controlling and punishment, she absurdly claims she sees no such evidence. These are the words of a person whose mind is no longer open to new ideas, evidence, and insights. So here’s the bottom line: The fact that she saw all the relatively high ratings for highly-controlling authoritative parenting made her decide early on that that was the best way. End of story. The research that was needed and indicated from the onset was, has been, and still is research that explores and contrasts the huge numbers of Baumrind authoritative parents and the huge numbers of parents using P.E.T., Winning Family Lifeskills, and any authoritative or harmonious or democratic parenting method that omits punishment and unilateral controlling and refrains from permissive and authoritarian techniques.

Unfortunately, if Baumrind does this research, since her mind is already made up, it will come out predictably supporting her beliefs. But if a team of objective researchers made up of both socialization researchers and attribution researchers does the job, the results should be more objective. And, of course, the problem will be that there are so many tens of thousands of parents out there doing combination parenting, with some P.E.T., some authoritarianism, and some authoritative parenting. Such people may report that they do only P.E.T., because they’re most proud of that fact and ashamed of the times when they lose control and punish because that’s what happened to them when they were growing up and they have never dealt with their feelings in such areas. And if researchers investigate from within private homes to see how real parents really act, we confront the Observer Effect (sometimes confused with the Uncertainty principle) in which one cannot observe without changing how the observed reacts.

One cannot observe without changing how the observed reacts, and few parents perfectly follow one method, so how, indeed, can research prove anything or change any minds?
One cannot observe without changing how the observed reacts, and few parents perfectly follow one method, so how, indeed, can research prove anything or change any minds?

Perhaps we should forget the research, because they'd find few parents that do pure P.E.T., Winning Family Lifeskills, or any authoritative or harmonious or democratic parenting method, since few parents truly confront their pasts and are therefore able to keep their parenting pure. So instead of the research, let's just rely on the results of the MC movement, which will be parenting better than it has ever been done before. We haven’t the slightest doubt that such things will tell us everything we need to know about parenting effectiveness. Many methods such as P.E.T. and Winning Family Lifeskills and others have already proven beyond any doubt the effectiveness of authoritative, harmonious and democratic parenting without punishments and win-lose power trips. That’s all the proof we require—if it works, don’t fix it. But for the scientifically inclined, there’s no reason why the research we’ve outlined cannot be done—IF parents who ONLY use one method can be located (rots-o'-ruck). But there must be one rule: No Culture War warriors pushing liberal or conservative or permissive or authoritarian or religious agendas allowed! See Why Register for an MC?.