By Laura Lyles Reagan
Between helicopter parents afraid to relinquish control and permissive parents afraid to exert authority, there is a respectful middle ground, which is not fear-based. But what does it look like? How do you find that illusive balance in parenting and fulfill the purpose of parenting?
Social psychologists generally tell us there are at least three parenting styles, laissez faire, authoritarian or assertive parenting.
· Laissez faire parenting is sometimes misperceived as permissive parenting. It is not necessarily. It is a conscious effort to not interfere with what is perceived to be the normal development of a child. It is based on the belief that there is an ideal childhood in which children learn through discovery and the natural consequences their behaviour brings.
· Authoritarian parenting invokes parental authority without negotiation on the child’s part. The parent’s authority is not questioned by the children without severe consequences.
· Assertive parenting or relational parenting as it is sometimes called, sets rules and structures but models the use of democratic principles and communication skills. Children are encouraged to express themselves within respectful boundaries.
Despite a modern psychological opinion that values assertive or relational parenting over the other parenting styles, we don’t have much social scientific research that demonstrates one parenting style is better than the other. If the child feels loved and rules are applied consistently, children tend to grow up to be contributing, adult members of society, the world over.
The real question isn’t, will my child grow up to be a responsible citizen? The real question is, are we preparing our children for the future, with the skills they need to negotiate a world we can’t even begin to imagine?
We don’t know what the workforce will look like. We don’t know what the political economy will be like. We don’t know how family structure will change. Futurists speculate and even point to biological realities such as brain growth and our ability to colonize the moon or Mars as indicators of how the future unfolds. But no one “knows” the future. Therefore, how can we know if our parenting and education system is adequate for a future we cannot imagine? What we do know is this “next” generation will not tolerate anything less than co-creation, according to Dr. Sheftali, author of Conscious Parenting.
Co-creation is a sociological term describing how each party in a relationship interacts to define the relationship, share power and influence and fulfill the purpose of the relationship. Traditional sociology views the role of children and teens as passive recipients of social learning where the institutions of society such as family, school and church teach children about our culture’s beliefs and behaviours. In the new sociology of childhood, children are co-creators of culture and relationships. Their role is obviously different than that of adults but their influence as what sociologists call “social actors” is powerful. (Prout & James 2010).
As any new parent knows, children influence the relationship. Babies cry. Parents feed them. That influence continues throughout the child’s life as they learn and grow to full maturity. Focusing on communication, we can learn something about the importance of actively, co-creating a relationship that prepares children and teens for the future.
The key to co-creating a satisfying relationship is less about directing and correcting behaviour and more about working together to solve problems. When teens and parents negotiate their relationship in a way that honours the importance of both of their roles and share responsibility for a positive relationship, they prepare teens for the future.
Co-creation communication skills such as active listening, I-Messages and other problem solving skills are the very soft skills that employers are seeking today. Practicing respectful communication skills in the tween – parent relationship prepares and empowers teens for a successful future.
Laura Lyles Reagan, MS is a family sociologist, teen-parent relationship coach and author of the new book, “How to Raise Respectful Parents”. She can be reached through her website, www.LauraLReagan.com