Friday, September 18, 2009

Parenting Styles

Trends in parenting are pretty funny to watch. Rare is the person whose opinion is based on actual evidence rather than some abstract principal or another. Even more rare is evidence that actually is solid. Quite possibly it just doesn't exist.

Well, bring up another round. Spanking has fallen out of style, so parents moved on to things like time-outs. Well, surprise surprise, kids were pretty much the same as before. Now I see that new trends are slowly building. The New York Times has an article that from how I read it pretty much says that any form of punishment or rewards for behavior results in kids with issues. It never said enough about its evidence for me to decide if it is more than rambling, but some of what he says makes sense to me. For example I have never seen a teenager punished into behaving well. Some of what he says makes little sense to me though:

The positive kind sometimes succeeded in getting children to work harder on academic tasks, but at the cost of unhealthy feelings of “internal compulsion.”
If there is one thing parents should try to give their children it is feelings of "internal compulsion." Nothing great has ever been accomplished without it. It just takes too much work.

Slate had an article similar in some ways, saying essentially that if what you are trying isn't getting a kid to do what you want, just stop for a while. Most of it was just alright, but one line caught my attention:
The research consistently shows that the more commands parents give a child, the more oppositional and deviant the child's behavior, and the constant barking of orders only makes it worse by raising the child's stress level.
This rather drives me nuts. I regularly see a young mother and child out in public, and the mother shouting order after order that the kid completely ignores. The mother is just stressing both of them out, and if she just shut up the kid would likely listen to her when she made a command that was actually important. As it is, the kid has obviously learned that mom just likes to talk a lot and blocks it out as background noise.

Really though, we probably all obsess over parenting styles a bit too much in America. A result of not having a stable culture telling us how to behave. Each generation learns everything from scratch. Even those order barking mothers who bug me often end up with kids who do just fine. I see every reason to think the main thing kids do is imprint on their parents, so just get your life together and don't traumatize them too much. Everything will be fine.

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