WASHINGTON — Experience and research have indicated which of the various styles of child-rearing are the most effective in bringing up well-adjusted children, says Cynthia Baum, a psychology professor at Catholic University.
The styles fall into three broad categories: permissive, authoritarian and authoritative, she says, adding that the authoritative style is the one to aim for.
"Parenting styles tend to be related to both positive and negative child behavior," Baum says. "Positive changes in parenting style often result in decreased negative behavior by children and increased family cooperation.
"Permissive parents are non-punitive, accept the child's impulses and don't encourage the child to obey externally defined standards. They treat adolescents in ways that make them feel guilty. For example, if a mother wants her teen-age son to clean his room she might say, 'If you really were a good son and loved your mother, you would clean up your room.' "
Baum maintains that the outcome of this style is teen-agers with less positive social behavior and lower achievements. These teens don't react well to external frustrations because they haven't had to respond to demands in the past.
"At the other end of the continuum are authoritarian parents, who demand rigid adherence to rules, set absolute standards, value respect for authority and don't encourage verbal give and take. They tend to favor more punitive measures to obtain obedience, such as 'Keep your room clean or stay in for a week.' "
The authoritarian style begets teen-agers who tend to be more rebellious--a vicious cycle is created, with parents demanding adherence to rules, children rebelling, parents tightening up more and children rebelling more.
"And these teen-agers tend to rank higher in peer conformity and rely more on peer-group pressures," adds Baum.
In the ideal authoritative style, she says: "Parents recognize that both they and their teen-agers have rights in the relationship and are willing to share decision-making with each other. A reward rather than a punishment system operates here. Teen-agers might get the use of the family car and time with parents when they abide by the guidelines.
"Adolescents need to understand why their parents think as they do and set the goals they do, and teens want to have a lot of say in deciding what the rules are."
"Teen-agers who are more influenced by parents than their peer group take more responsibility in the family and develop positive independence from the family," Baum says.
She advises parents who believe they don't fall into the authoritative parenting category to bone up on more positive parenting skills.