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Changes in Society: Parents

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In an article in today's Guardian, Paul Martin argues that there are four types of parents:


Authoritative parents love their children unconditionally and accept them for who they are. They keep a close eye on their children, provide them with plenty of support, set firm boundaries, and grant considerable freedom within those boundaries. Authoritative parents monitor their children and intervene when necessary, but let them get on with things when there is no need to interfere. They mean what they say, and do not shy away from conflict when enforcing the boundaries they have set. Authoritative parents are loving but not over-indulgent, involved but not overly controlling, clear about limits but not excessively risk-averse, and permissive within those limits but not neglectful. Most people would like to be an authoritative parent, whether or not they actually are.


Authoritarian parents, in contrast, have a colder parenting style which is more demanding but less responsive to their children's real needs. Authoritarian parents are highly controlling, but not very warm or loving. They intervene frequently, issuing commands, criticisms and occasional praise, but do this in an inconsistent way. They expect their children to obey their instructions without explanation, and may use emotional tactics to get their way, such as making their children feel guilty, ashamed or unloved. Authoritarian parents often interfere when there is no real need to, and issue threats without always carrying them through. At the extreme, some highly authoritarian parents resort to physical or emotional abuse in their attempts to control their children, which obviously can cause lasting psychological damage. Children who are beaten or denied any affection are at significantly greater risk of becoming abusive parents themselves.


Indulgent parents are responsive but undemanding and permissive. They are warm and loving but lax, setting few clear boundaries. They often respond to their children's wishes, even when these are unreasonable or inappropriate. Punishments are seldom threatened, let alone carried through, and the children often appear to have the upper hand in the relationship. Indulgent parents try to be kind, but shy away from conflict or difficulty.

A fine example of indulgent parenting can be found in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in the form of Mr and Mrs Salt. Their daughter Veruca is an obnoxious little girl who has been spoiled rotten by her rich parents. She gains entry to Willy Wonka's fabulous factory by winning one of the coveted golden tickets - but only thanks to her doting father, who has bought half a million Wonka chocolate bars.


Uninvolved parents are unresponsive, undemanding, permissive and set few clear boundaries, largely because they don't really care very much. Unlike authoritative parents, they are neither warm nor firm and they do not monitor their children. Instead, they are laid-back and unresponsive to an extent that can sometimes seem reckless. In extreme cases, uninvolved parenting may stray into outright neglect.

Dahl again provides a helpful example - this time in the shape of Mr and Mrs Wormwood in Matilda. The gormless Wormwoods are so wrapped up in their own empty suburban lives that they fail to notice that their daughter Matilda is an extraordinarily brilliant little girl. To them, she is little more than an annoying scab.


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And haven't I read once somewhere that indulgent parents do no more harm than authoritarian or uninvolved? I suppose that makes sense! After reading the authorative descriptor I immediately thought it applied to me, but then how much do we know about ourselves? I'll have to ask my adult sons.

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