Vol. 51 September 1, 2011 “What’s Your Parenting Style?”

“ … parenting styles are not better predictors of children’s cognitive ability than socioeconomic-demographic characteristics.” (1)

“…trying to simply connect adult or adolescent outcomes to the type of parenting used with them without adjusting for a multitude of other factors will produce misleading or false results.”  (2)

Which parenting style do you have? Does it matter? Probably not.

Numerous studies show that socioeconomic, demographic, and other factors have much more influence overall on your child’s future abilities and success than your parenting style.

That is comforting news today.  During my training as a pediatrician in the 60’s and 70’s there were really only two identified parenting styles; “authoritarian” and “permissive.”  Subcategories were quickly developed like “authoritative” (more democratic than authoritarian), “indulgent” (permissive to the max), and finally “uninvolved” (close to but not quite neglectful)  Dr. Brazelton then superseded Dr. Spock and focused more attention on the baby’s style (“average”, “active”, or “quiet”) which probably helped take some pressure off of the parents who thought baby’s behvior was all up to them..

Newer parenting style labels include “helicopter style” (a protective parent hovering over a toddler aborting any mistakes or mishaps before they happen, and NOT referring to all the shuttling between the child’s organized activities as I thought originally), “drill sergeant” (a self-explanatory variation of  “authoritarian”), and the newly minted “consultant” (appears to be a short hand label for “loving and logical” parenting) (3) A bizarre example illustrating the “consultant” style in this book is the story of the neurosurgeon telling his son that a patient that he operated on had his brains “flow out like thin cottage cheese because he had watched TV four hours a day for six weeks.” Just add something like “masturbation causes blindness” and you’ll have a great recipe for either moral paralysis or potential Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Discussion of “attachment parenting” (think family bed), “emotion coaching”, “concerted cultivation” (think organized leisure activities to better build strengths for competing ), “nurturant”, “Christian positivity”, “tough love”, etc. is just too much for this brief blog, but you get the idea. Wikipedia lists 20 different dysfunctional parenting styles alone.

As in other areas of health care, the sheer number of possibilities and the increased emphasis on “patient choice” have resulted in greater parents’ anxiety about making the “right choice”.  By the way, “choice” is the wrong verb here. Parenting style is a product of your own experiences and upbringing and can probably be modified  just a little by magazine reading, TV viewing, and Google surfing. You “have” a parenting style; you don’t really “choose” one.

To help currently confused and worried parents there is now, of course, many online courses. One offers 8 weeks of multi-media instruction on parenting styles for $97.97 or the “rapid certificate” of just online text for $49.97. Interestingly that online service’s boldest selling point is that their “certificate is guaranteed to be accepted by the courts.”

So, what prompted this reflection on the contemporary complexity around parenting styles? Well, the youngest of my grandchildren (all 6 are “above average”, of course, and their mothers are “all good looking”) was entertaining several of us adults one morning around the kitchen table . We marveled at the antics of this one year old and his deliberate and appropriate responses to ours. His aunt suggested that his good karma, his flow of energy, and his sensitivity to her energy field was the reason. She pointed to the middle of his forehead and said, “He has a very sensitive third eye.” His mother remarked that that is the spot where she made the sign of the cross in his first day as a small infant, and where she repeats that gesture almost every day. I, on the other hand, remain amazed,even after 40 years of pediatric practice, by the rapid development of problem-solving abilities and responsive social behavior that infants and toddlers exhibit.

What explains this phenomenon; astrology, theology, or neurobiology? Take your pick. We have less than perfect understanding of all three, so each, or all, could be the right answer. Likewise for the different, but consistent and loving parenting styles.

1. The Influence of Parenting Styles on Children’s Cognitive Development Amy E. Tiller, B.S., *M. E. Betsy Garrison, Ph.D., *Elizabeth Benchea Block, MPH, Kathryn Cramer, M.S., and Vicky Tiller, M.S. Louisiana State University
2. Wikipedia/Parenting Styles referenced August 30, 2011
3. Parenting with Love & Logic, Foster Cline MD & Jim Fay (a psychiatrist and a school principal) 2006

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