Parenting Styles

parenting styles 8

We thought we were done with formal parenting at least a decade ago, as our children have families of their own. However, our next mission trip includes giving parenting workshops as a bridge event to reach local families, so we have been brushing up on some skills we’ve forgotten, or new ones we haven’t learned before. One of them is parenting styles.

Most parents want their children to be successful and not walk astray down a wrong path. To achieve this the parents encourage their kids to develop their potential, and control their behavior to get the desired results. These two tools, encouragement and control, and the degree to which each is used (i.e. whether high or low), come in handy in analyzing the styles parents use to motivate or de-motivate their children.

If you do a chart with control (or demand) as the x-axis and encouragement (or support) as the y-axis, you can divide the chart into four quadrants, as follows. Starting with the top right quadrant and going clockwise, we have:

Authoritative (high demand, high support). The parents expect a lot, set boundaries, discipline through guidelines, and at the same time provide a lot of support via open communication, encouragement and warmth. Children raised in this environment tend to be assertive, competent, independent, yet cooperative and friendly. This is tough love, which is rare.

Authoritarian (high demand, low support). This is the old style “tiger mom” practiced by many Asian parents, pushing their children to excel. The parents are autocratic, strict and expect obedience “because I said so”. Encouragement is low. In fact few boomers can recall much communication between them and their parents. But sometimes they do get results by punishment. Children brought up under this style tend to go in two extremes. Many are anxious for approval, socially withdrawn, or react by being rebellious. However, some channel their energy positively and excel in the fields their parents chose for them.

Disengaged (low demand, low support). Classic laissez-faire. The parents are absorbed in their own pursuits, and are uninvolved in their children’s development, providing little or inconsistent boundaries and support. There is little interaction between parent and child, with emotional detachment. Such parents neglect their children, who often grew up apathetic, destructive, unmotivated, but there are exceptions.

Indulgent (low demand, high support). The parents are permissive, showering their children with affection. In becoming their children’s friends, they essentially abdicated their parental responsibility in providing little guidance. Often the children become self-centered, impulsive, and undisciplined, as they have not been properly trained to be mature, responsible adults. They also learn to be manipulative through their interaction with their parents. Sad to say, this is the trend in Western education which emphasizes self above community.

Interestingly, people often repeat the style they themselves were brought up in and apply it to their own children. For example, provided they are at least moderately successful, children raised in authoritarian homes tend to be authoritarian parents themselves, as that’s the style they know. However, if they have very unhappy childhood, they might react and do the exact opposite and become indulgent parents, moving away from their parent’s style as far as possible.

Which style is biblical? Several classic texts on child rearing are (NASB):
Deut 6:7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. The objective of teaching is to steer the children’s conduct and thinking; it is control. To talk in all situations is to communicate, to reinforce, to support.
Prov 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it. Training is directing, controlling, placing demands on the child. “The way he should go” is accepting, encouraging, supporting the child’s natural bent, not the way you want him to go.
Eph 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Not provoking is accepting, part of nurturing. Discipline and instruction is demanding.

Clearly the biblical model is authoritative, placing high expectations of the child and supporting them all the way until they succeed. Unfortunately, many famous dads in the Bible are total failures when it comes to parenting e.g. Jacob-Reuben, David-Absalom etc. Success in one area of your life does not translate automatically into success in your role as parents. It takes conscious effort and determination.

One last warning. Children are like clay. A fresh lump is pliable and easily molded, but as time progresses it dries out and become hard and unyielding. So are children. The window of opportunity to shape the will without breaking the spirit is narrow. Soon the character is set and becomes difficult to change. We shudder at how little we knew when the responsibility was thrust upon us. Only by the grace of God did our children turn out “ok”. Pray for young parents. Without the Bible I dread to see how kids will turn out today.

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