Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite

August 5, 2016

Internet Usage, Privacy

Drill Sergeant, Consultant, or Helicopter Parent? Deciding How You Will Run Your Household

No one ever said that learning how to parent is easy. And unlike other learned skills, the longer you parent, the more you’re likely to feel like you don’t know! The parenting life throws lots of curveballs.  Having just one rule or policy for a situation won’t necessarily cut it when something new comes up.

Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite

Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite

That said, many specialists tend to agree that what really makes the difference in the effectiveness of your parenting is not so much the specific decisions you make in various situations, but rather the tone and style with which you parent. The tone you choose can make all the difference in discipline, conflict resolution, and bonding.

The Parenting Styles

According to The Center for Parenting Education, many styles of parenting can be generally grouped into one of three categories: permissive, assertive, or aggressive parenting. Some specialists might further distinguish permissive parenting from neglectful parenting and aggressive parenting abusive parenting to clarify that this metric only means to refer to parenting styles, which would not include downright problematic parenting behaviors.

You could picture these three core parenting styles as sitting on a spectrum with assertiveparenting right in the middle. Assertive parents tend to have clear household rules, but they always allow their children to express themselves and to explain why they broke a rule or why they think a rule is unfair. Rather than insisting on their rules, they tend to persist until their child understands why their rules are important. These parents are careful to make sure their rules are clear and reasonable, and that breaking the rules comes with reasonable consequences. However, assertive parents are also able to keep their rules flexible. This is important for demonstrating to children that there are situations in which rules could be broken, but that those situations shouldn’t be taken lightly and are an exception. Specialists suggest that this parenting style tends to be most effective in developing well-adjusted kids who are good at developing strong relationships of their own and understand how to use talking as a means of solving problems.

Permissiveparents tend to place less value on the idea of the parent as the rule maker. This may come from a laid-back personal style, but in some cases can come from a fear of alienating a child by acting authoritatively. If you feel that this describes your own fears, you may want to work on finding ways to build your confidence as a parent so that you won’t worry so much about enforcing your rules with your kids. Permissive parents tend to be very flexible with rules, but this may also suggest a low rate of communication between parents and kids. They may also ignore discipline in cases of disobedience. This in particular is sometimes symptomatic of a parent who came out of an aggressive or abusive household who wants to be careful to avoid the strictness of the household they grew up in. Parents are likely to give their kids lots of room for self-expression and experimentation, but may not push their kids towards challenges or give their kids lots of opportunities to make choices, which is in important part of character formation.

By contrast, aggressive parents tend to enforce extremely strict rules and are inflexible in the enforcement of their rules. They are quick to confront their kids in cases of disobedience, but may not be so skilled at setting rules or consequences that are suitable to a kid’s age or reasonable for the level of the infraction. Because these parents tend to take their status as rule maker very seriously, they are also not so likely to provide the child with enough opportunities for decision making, self-expression, and experimentation. They tend to be disinclined to give kids opportunities to explain or make their case, and may be quick to anger.

As you may have detected, as with so many things, the middle of the road option in this case tends to be the best. Of course, it’s impossible for a parent to do everything perfectly all the time. But if you feel that you may lean a little far towards one side or the other, one thing you may want to consider is if there is anything that is causing you to feel some lack of self confidence in your parenting. According to The Attached Family, both permissive and aggressive parents tend to either avoid confrontation or overreact because they have doubts about their rules, punishments, or decisions, or because they simply don’t like to be challenged.

Facing the Curveballs

Even if you feel that you’ve developed a pretty good tone for your parenting, life will often throw curveballs at you that require quick thinking and creative parenting. This is especially true in the Internet age as kids’ lives are changing very quickly and it can be hard for parents to keep up and to know what kinds of challenges their child might be facing.

Again, to be prepared for the curveballs, the best thing you can do is to maintain a flexible approach and be prepared to hear your kids out, especially if you are dealing with a situation that may be foreign to you. For example, say you’ve discovered that your child has been bullying another child over the Internet. Of course, you know that bullying is wrong and you never want your child to participate in that kind of behavior. But maybe your child will respond that this is just how kids communicate online and that you just don’t understand how aggressive online conversations can be.

A permissive response to this situation would be to completely take your child’s word for it and to do nothing in response. An aggressive response would be to cut off your child from the Internet and to keep a careful tally of everything your child does online. By contrast, a creative and assertive response would be to set limitations to the hours your child can spend online and the kinds of things they are allowed to do, at least for a period of time. That is, if you decide to ground them, you might limit them to use of the computer only for homework purposes for two weeks. To enforce this, you might consider installing child protection software like Rated 4 Kids that can allow you to limit access to certain websites and apps on your child’s devices during certain hours. You can also use this program to keep a tally on the sites and services that your child is most frequently visiting and how many hours they spend there, which can give you a way to control the situation without actually looking at their browsing history.

Again, no one ever said parenting is easy! Just make sure to cut your kids some slack, and yourself as well, as you try to figure out what works best for your family.

Read more about parenting styles in “Helicopters, Drill Sergeants and Consultants”

by Jim Fay and Dr. Charles Fay.