If you’ve been around the parenting block once or twice, you’ve probably seen the standard Four Parenting Styles. As usual for parenting advice, there’s a minefield of errors for you, with three errors and only one right way. Your choices are Authoritarian (bad, sure to turn your child into a sad, depressed sheep-robot), Permissive/Indulgent (bad, will make your kid an entitled jerk), Neglectful (bad, will bring Child Welfare down on your you-know-what) or Authoritative (the magical balance that produces great children).
I’ve never been happy with these quadrants. For one thing, I never like it when there’s only 25% of being right and 75% of doom and disaster. For another, I don’t like how “authoritative” and “authoritarian” sounds like practically the same thing. I would never in a million years describe my parenting as “authoritative.” Raising kids who blindly submit to authority is my nightmare. Freedom! America!
Still, “how much do you emphasize authority?” is a real thing in parenting. I happen to think there’s a lot of good parenting all along this continuum. It just depends on what values are the most important to you as a parent. I found some insight on this topic in a very weird place this week while discussing a political psychology paper with one of the kids.
Turns out, for a couple of decades now, political pollsters have been using a simple four-question parenting quiz to measure something they call “authoritarianism.” With each question, respondents are asked which of two traits were more important in children: independence or respect for their elders; curiosity or good manners; self-reliance or obedience; and being considerate or being well-behaved. Score yourself: you get one point for the first choice, five for the second, and three if you think they are truly exactly equal in importance.
Political psychologists use these questions as a shortcut way to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call "authoritarianism." But I think it’s incredibly interesting just in itself as a parenting question.
Picked choice two? I’m guessing “authoritative parent” feels great to you. But there doesn’t seem to be a good name for “choice one” parents: the ones that prioritize independence, curiosity, self-reliance, and consideration in our children. It sure ain’t “Permissive” or “Neglectful.” It takes a ton of parent engagement to develop these traits in children. What’s the opposite of authoritarianism: the word for favoring collaboration, skepticism and shared initiative?
I asked Mr. Online Thesaurus and racked my English major brain, and I’m not sure there’s a word for this in English. The Anti-Authoritarian Parent? I sure like that better than Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive or Neglectful, but it’s not very satisfying either. I will have to revisit this in another column. We need both kids of kids in society to make the world go round. Which kind are you raising?