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 What is a parent? Seems like kind of a stupid, simple-minded question, doesn't it? According to Seifert & Hoffnung (1994), authors of Child and adolescent development, parents have four roles: teacher, moral leader, emotional supporter and advocate.

TEACHERS: Parents teach by directly stating information, just like any other teacher. They may teach information, such as,
"That's a leaf. It's an oak leaf. Look how it goes around and in and out. Put your finger on it and trace around it."

They may also teach rules, such as:
"No, do not chase your sister through the house trying to hit her with a broomstick. Do not sit on your sister's head, that is a bad thing to do."

[If you have never had children you only THINK it will not be necessary to state such rules to your children.]
Parents also teach by modeling. My oldest daughter began driving, and could actually drive quite decently from the very beginning. When I asked her how that could be, she responded, "Well, I watched you drive for years, why shouldn't I be able to drive?"

 Children also learn values from their parents as models. Seifert and Hoffnung call this role MORAL LEADERSHIP.

Many years ago, I had a secretary who was a young woman from a reservation in Wisconsin. She mentioned to me that, after subtracting what she paid in taxes, for day care, what she would have received from food stamps and AFDC, she came out forty dollars ahead each week from working full-time. I asked her, 

"Why do you do it? I mean, that's a really admirable work ethic, but I don't think I would work for a dollar an hour."

She got a very serious look on her face and said,

"You know, AnnMaria, when I was growing up on the reservation, I don't remember a single Indian person that worked. There weren't hardly any jobs on our reservation, and what people did was get their welfare checks, go into town, get whiskey and come back to the reservation and get drunk. What this little Indian boy of mine sees is a mother who gets up every morning, gets dressed up and goes into work in an office. Thatís what I do it for, not for the damned dollar an hour."

 Parents also serve as a source of EMOTIONAL SUPPORT.
Children are generally less anxious in the presence of their parents, and feel more confident in exploring their environment. This fact has been documented repeatedly, in settings ranging from the Strange Situation, used to test attachment, to childrenís admissions to hospitals.

As an ADVOCATE, parents stand up for their childís rights and needs, presenting their case better than children can speak for themselves. This may be anything from explaining to the doctor why a particular medicine might not be preferred ("She hates the taste of that. Is there anything else you can prescribe?") to explaining the childís situation to day care, school or law enforcement authorities.


When one of my daughters was in the first grade, she went to a school with a very anal-retentive principal. According to her rules, if a child was late for any reason, he or she would have to stay after school three minutes for every minute late. One day, we were half an hour late and my daughter and I were told by the office staff when I checked her in that she would have to stay ninety minutes after school. I explained the situation but the principal refused to change her position, stating, "We have to enforce the rules." At this point, I simply said my daughter, in front of the principal, "I am picking you up at 3:00 and no teacher better try to stand in my way."

By 3 pm, after hourly calls to the principalís office by myself and my husband, and threats of a lawsuit, we had the situation resolved. I was, however, worried that my daughter must have had a terrible day. When I picked her up, she was her usual self, happy as six-year-olds usually are. When I asked her whether she was worried about if she would have to stay after school until 4:30 she replied, "No, Mom, you told me it would be okay and not to worry, so I didn't."

It is not surprising, then, that loss of a parent, who can remove all worry from the world and take care of everything (in the eyes of the child, at least) is an extremely stressful event for a child, although how a child responds to that stress will differ based on their age and developmental level. (We will talk about this a lot in the final chapter in this course on death and dying. Since my husband died when the children were relatively young (from eight to twelve) and I found very little information for when younger people die, this is an area I particularly want to emphasize (not right now, though).


Why does parenting style become an issue during early childhood?
    Just today, Dennis (my husband) and I were discussing discipline (and lack thereof). Our baby has been going to day care two hours a day, four days a week. This is her second week at it. The first day, she cried for an hour and, the day care provider called me to come get her. Today, the day care lady (her name is Shokouh, by the way) said to me, "You were right when you told me she was spoiled."

    Julia will not go to sleep unless someone is holding her and rocking her or walking with her. You can't just put her to bed like a lot of babies, because she will cry, and keep crying until you pick her up. (Our pediatrician, as well as numerous people whose opinions we have not asked, has urged us to just let her cry for hours if necessary, and assured us that, after a few nights, she will give up and learn to go to sleep when she is put in her crib.) Julia eats when she wants, whatever she wants, goes to sleep and gets up when she wants. At some point, though, she will have to start learning that she cannot always have everything her own way, or else she will turn into one of those horrid preschoolers who throw a tantrum every time their slightest whim is not catered to.

    When does that point occur? Dennis argued that, "You can't spoil a baby."
I agree and I don't. On the one hand, I certainly agree that you cannot spoil a very young infant. For example, if you review the information on cognitive development in infancy, you realize that the child at first does not even have person permanence - they aren't even aware that you are the same person who was feeding them yesterday. How can they possibly be aware of rules, much less comply with them? The obvious answer is, "They can't." On the other hand, Julia is nine months old, and has had much less structure than the typical infant (at least among the people we know, most of whom have to return to work full time long before their infants are this age). Maybe not right now, but in the next year or so, she is going to have to start learning that she can't always have her own way.

    Right after I got off the telephone with Dennis, I picked up an issue of the journal Family Relations, which I had been meaning to read. (It was from October, 1996 - I've been busy!) and in it was an article on parenting. She described early childhood as "the age at which children start saying 'no' and mean it."
In my opinion (and that of your textbook author as well), this is also the age when parents can begin saying "no" and mean it.

 The place where I take a politically incorrect  stance 
on family studies - tough

In my copious spare time (ha!) I went to the National Council on Family Relations national conference in Milwaukee. One of the sessions was called "The Counsel of Sages" , where a panel of elderly people who had been involved in research on families for four or five decades (longer than I have been alive) contributed their collective wisdom on the state of the field. 

It seemed to me as if they were saying that, when they began in the field, we (as researchers, people with Ph.D.'s, that is "the experts") had an attitude that "We know what is best for families", but that now we realize that all kinds of families exist, and that is okay, and we cannot be telling people what is right and wrong."

An older (than me!) gentleman in the audience, stood up and objected

"It seems to me that you are saying that we don't know diddly-squat about families and child development and that there is nothing we can tell people to do. Well, I beg to differ with you. I think we DO know diddly-squat, and there are some things we can tell families to do." 

I couldn't have agreed more. The panelists sort of ignored him. (I think that is one of the advantages of being old, you get to act more however you feel like.) I also think there ARE some recommendations we can make to parents. I don't believe that everything is culturally relative. Which leads me to...


In Chapter 8, Diana Baumrind's typology of parenting styles is discussed at length, so I will just review it briefly here.
The major types are:

Authoritarian: High in control, low in warmth. Think drill sergeant. The statements,
    "As long as you are living in my house, under my roof, you'll do as I say."
    "Children should be seen and not heard." and
    "Why? Because I said so!"
All reflect an authoritarian parenting style.

Permissive: Few demands are placed on children for appropriate behavior or responsibility. Discipline is rare. Children have a say in decisions and have reasons for parent behavior and decisions explained to them.

Although your text does not mention it, others (for example, Laurence Steinberg, in his textbook, Adolescence) have described two types of permissive parents. I know all about this, I think, since I had one of each type. Permissive indulgent parents never want their children to suffer, be unhappy or disadvantaged in any way. My mother was like this especially with my youngest brother, who was seven years old when I left for college. My brother would "find things", like bicycles, soccer balls and so on. Once, when I was home on spring break, I said to my mother,

"You know darn well he "found" that bike in somebody's yard! Why do you let him do that? Why don't you make him take it right back? I would if he was my kid!"

And my mother responded,

"Hush! Don't go upsetting him like that. He really wanted a bike, and you know those rich people can always afford to go buy a new one. Their kids shouldn't have left it lying out in the yard anyway."

Permissive indifferent parents just don't want to be bothered. Often they have problems with alcohol, drugs or mental illness. They rarely impose any discipline on their children because it would be an effort. (If you have raised children yourself, you know that it is an incredible amount of work. ) It is more work to get your child to clean his or her room than to do it yourself, or just let it be messy. Permissive indifferent parents only discipline their children when the behavior inconveniences the parent. For example, my father probably did not say 100 words to me throughout my entire childhood. I did get beaten, however, when the school called him at work to complain about my misbehavior in school and the fact that I wasn't IN school that often because I was often missing class.

So, while permissive indulgent parents are very low on control, but high on warmth, permissive indifferent parents are low on both warmth and control.
Authoritative parents provide guidelines for their children, but are flexible. For example, a child may be required to be home by 10 pm every night, but the parent may make an exception if it is prom night. Children are provided some degree of freedom within limits. For example, I believe it is very important that children be involved in some type of extracurricular activity, that it is not appropriate to just go to school and come home and watch TV. Each of my children has a choice of whatever activity interests her (within reason). Consequently, one is in judo, one is a cheerleader and the third plays piano.
Parenting styles is one of the more heavily researched areas in developmental psychology, and nearly all of the research points to the same conclusion:


Authoritative parents are not their children's friends (because your friends are your peers, which authoritative parents are clearly not.) They set limits for their children (unlike permissive parents), but they are also willing to listen and take into consideration their children's opinions. Authoritative parenting is positively related to just about every outcome we would like to see for our children. Authoritative parents are less likely to have children who have trouble with juvenile authorities or fail in school, among other things. (See your textbook for many citations of relevant research.)

Do authoritative parents ever spank their children? Click here to read what Diana Baumrind had to say about that. (Go ahead, it is cool. She gave her permission to post her private email for you to read. Very nice of her, no?)

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