Constructive Vs. Destructive Parenting Styles: Should Children Be Spanked

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It is a well-known fact that a child’s life environment strongly contributes to their future success. The correlation between childhood and adulthood are so strong that we can even trace a serious mental disorder or a major life decision back to an early-life event. But even as this truth stands, we also know that every child is not born free of tendencies. Genetics have the power to influence everything in one’s life. Tendencies passed down by generations can include anything from aggression, introversion, and even mental illness. As a result, parents commonly ask: how much of my child’s behavior is due to genetic predisposition, and how much is a result of my style of parenting? My topic, “constructive and destructive parenting styles”, answers this question through defining the power of parenting. Parenting is one of the most studied, wondered about, and ever-changing topic out there. In my opinion, it is one of the most important points of discussion and study of research.

Behaviorist and Freudian theory were both important influencers in parenting research, as behaviorism studies conditioning and Freudianism studies psychoanalysis. Research on both conditioning and psychoanalysis emphasizes on the factors of influence in personality and psychological development, thus leading to specific research on parenting. Parenting plays the biggest role in child development, and it is definitively inevitable that every human being will experience the mental and physical repercussions from their own child development stage. So not only is correct parenting important for children; it is important for their future ability to be healthy, happy, and successful. “Styles of caregiving can have both immediate and lasting effects on children’s social functioning in areas from moral development to peer play to academic achievement” (Bornstein, 2007). The three parenting styles that will be discussed are authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.

Authoritarian parenting is “a rigid parenting style characterized by strict rules and poor communication skills”, and it encourages low self-assurance, low autonomy, and poor social skills (Licht, 2019, p. 349). This is a very imbalanced form of parenting that can have long-lasting negative effects on children, such as anxiety and ABS (anti-social behavior), both of which hinder the child’s ability to feel motivated and to be successful in later life. Authoritarian parents are typically out of touch with their children’s feelings and emotions, which can cause those children to feel unimportant and develop distrust in peers. It also encourages those children to focus their feelings inward instead of opening up and dealing with their emotions in a healthy way. In general, this is not a good way to parent, and parents who are prone to authoritarian parenting practices should focus on improving their emotional relationship with their children by initiating positive conversations with them, showing great interest in their thoughts, feelings, and lives; and avoiding negative talk along with conversations that can make their children feel put down or ‘not good enough’. Children from authoritarian parents can either turn out to be over-achievers who have serious anxiety because they never feel that they will reach their goals, or they can become adults that give up on everything because they believe that they will never make it. These are two main outcomes, although there are many other possible scenarios adults from these parents can find themselves in.

Authoritative parenting is characterized by “high expectations, strong support, and respect for children” and encourages high responsiveness to parents’ expectations, self-assurance, and independence (Licht, 2019, p. 349). “Research has generally linked authoritative parenting, where parents balance demandingness and responsiveness, with higher social competencies in children” (Bornstein, 2007). Thus, “children of authoritative parents possess greater competence in early peer relationships, engage in low levels of drug use as adolescents, and have more emotional well-being as young adults” (Bornstein, 2007). Flexibility and genuine attitudes of warmth are extremely important parent qualities/attitudes to possess because they can improve your relationship with your child, but it is also important to balance flexibility and warmth with high expectations for your children so that they learn how to work hard. It is easy to slide into permissive parenting if the consistency of expectation begins to digress. Healthy expectations include good school grades, appropriate and respectful behavior, helping out with house duties, a respectful attitude towards parents and adults in charge, and involvement in extra-curricular activities. Support is another great attribute of authoritative parents; children desperately need someone to rely on, confide in, and someone to provide validation for their feelings. Children need to not only know what to do with their feelings, but also that it is okay to feel. If they do not have supportive parents to teach them this, they may have internalizing issues in the future, and they will most likely struggle to have good emotional communication skills. Children raised in authoritative home settings tend to grow to be more successful, and generally possess positive qualities such as friendliness and cheerfulness.

Permissive parenting is characterized by “low demands of children and few limitations” and encourages low self-control, heightened impulsion, and a lack of respect for boundaries (Licht, 2019, p. 349). “Permissive parents may express warmth but not offer the support needed for infants to successfully develop orienting regulatory capacity” (Wittig, 2019). Self-regulatory capacity refers to the “ability to exert control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions” (Wittig, 2019). For example, the ability to make healthy food choices, to comfort oneself, or block negativity out from those in one’s environment. These are important skills for children to learn in order to be prepared for adulthood, and the permissive parenting style can inhibit children from attaining these. The permissive parenting style is viewed as the most destructive parenting style because instead of teaching children the importance of hard work, which might be one potentially positive thing from authoritarian parenting, there is too much leniency and too little rules and limitations, which can cause children to grow up to be lazy and unsuccessful, due to their lack of opportunity as a child to learn how to be responsible. And because childhood is such an important section in life for mental development and growth, the absence of those necessary experiences can cause them to experience more anxiety or stress as adults. So, although parents may think they are doing good for their children by making their lives as stress-free as possible, they are actually doing a huge disfavor to their children’s future selves. Friendliness between a parent and a child is also something that needs to be balanced and healthy; if there are no boundaries concerning who is in charge and who is not, then that child may have trouble in the future respecting authorities, bosses, and other important people from whom that child’s future self relies upon for their success and security. That child may also grow up with the idea that the rules do not apply to him or her, possibly ending with that child in serious trouble with the law or other authorities; which can have a very long list of consequences. The permissive parenting style is generally not a positive form of parenting and is unhealthy and destructive for both child, parent, and the over-all home environment.

The authoritarian nor the permissive parenting style have been “linked to positive outcomes, presumable because both minimize opportunities for children to learn to cope with stress” (Bornstein, 2007). Stress can be motivating or debilitating. If children and teenagers are consistently presented with opportunities that challenge and push them towards healthy goals, then they will be more likely to tackle adult challenges with ease and create high goals for themselves in the future. The authoritative parenting style is the ‘happy median’ between the authoritarian and permissive parenting style, as authoritarian parents are too hard on their children with little to no emotional connection and awareness, and permissive parents are too easy on their children with too much friendliness in that relationship between them and their children.

There are, however, studies that object to the idea that the authoritative parenting style is ‘the’ parenting style that every parent should adopt. An article studied the effects of the permissive parenting style on an infant in comparison with a teen. The results were that permissive parenting can give the infant the opportunity to develop self-regulation, as young children generally have an innate desire to advance mentally and physically. The other side of the results found that permissive parenting with teens cause them to be lazy and turn away from advancement. This study suggests that the effectiveness of parenting styles are dependent upon the child’s age, and therefore there is no black and white answer as to which style should be used at all times by every parent.

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Another study argued that the effectiveness of parenting styles are dependent upon which culture it is practiced in. A study found that “authoritarian parenting, which is associated with fearful, timid behavioral compliance among European-American children, is associated with assertiveness among African-American girls.” (Darling, 1993). These studies also found that “authoritative parenting is most strongly associated with academic achievement among European-American adolescents and is least effective in influencing the academic achievement of Asian and African American youths” (Darling, 1993). This concludes that culture and ethnicity need to be taken into account before prescribing a parenting style to a parent.

Another opposing opinion is that not only is the effectiveness of a parenting style dependent on the culture of the family, but it is also dependent upon the area in which the family lives. Groups argue that it is necessary for parents to incorporate a higher degree of parental control when living in dangerous areas, whereas heightened flexibility and freedom given to children in safe neighborhoods may positively affect those children. There are countless opinions on parenting, many of them being opposed to the idea of three main parenting styles. Many believe that it is too hard to match a parenting style to a parent, because it would be lost among all other parenting practices. Many parents are too inconsistent, which is a problem as children thrive off of consistency. This is why it is strongly suggested that parents stick to the authoritative side of parenting and continue that balance that keeps a healthy emotional climate within the home.

Corporal punishment is another form of poor parenting. It is defined as: “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behavior” (Straus, 1997). Spanking has become a widely used form of child-correction. It has been calculated that “most children (80%) are spanked or other-wise physically punished by their parents” (Straus, 1997). This rate’s refusal to decrease has taken its toll amongst children, adolescents, and even adults who experienced corporal punishment in early life. The effects of spanking are contradictory to its original purpose. Parents use spanking with the intent of changing a bad behavior, and in turn, it just teaches the child another bad behavior – aggression. It’s even more mind blowing when parents use corporal punishment to correct their child’s aggressive behavior; as fighting aggression with aggression achieves the opposite effect.

That being said, these findings suggest that “if parents replace corporal punishment by nonviolent modes of discipline, it could reduce the risk of ASB among children and [even] reduce the level of violence in American society” – all the more reason to eradicate corporal punishment from parent to child (Straus, 1997).

Studies found that “1-year-old children who were frequently spanked by their mothers had a 58% higher rate of noncompliance with mothers’ requests than did children whose parents rarely or never spanked them. Among elementary school aged children, it was found that those who were spanked that year had double the rate of physical aggression against other children in school” (Gershoff, 2016). While parents may not see spanking as an actual parent practice, it is. “Attending school functions and spanking are both examples of parenting practices” – although they are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Each parenting practice can have long-lasting effects on each child, so it is very important to think each one through before performing them (Gershoff, 2016). Even “non-goal-directed parental behaviors, such as gestures, changes in tone of voice, or the spontaneous expression of emotion” can be considered parenting practices (Gershoff, 2016). Children are very observant, and they pick up on things very quickly. They will be able to pick apart your intentions and feelings towards them according to the over-all ‘emotional climate’ in your home.

The other opposing argument is that parenting styles are created according to the child’s temperament. However, “parenting can elicit specific temperamental traits” (Darling, 1993), making it important for parents to stick to a healthy parenting style whether or not their children have behaviors that call for more authoritarian parenting practices. Another long-running opinion is, “it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good hard spanking” (Straus, 1997). For some reason, this opinion has been so difficult to turn around, and this statement encourages parents to lose their temper and blame it on their children. If we have opinions like this, we will never be able to eradicate corporal punishment from homes; leaving this issue unsolved.

Some other very serious impacts that corporal punishment can have on children are “low self-esteem, depression, and low educational attainment” (Wittig, 2019). Low self-esteem can lead to suicide, and low educational attainment is not what we want our society to strive for. Although parents may believe that spanking or other forms of corporal punishment is harmless; no matter how small, corporal punishment will most likely have a long-term negative effects on the children being punished. In many homes, “parenting style and child temperament reciprocally influence one another and thereby contribute to children’s behavior problems”, and “parenting can thus represent both a product and a cause of children’s behavior” (Wittig, 2019). These are true, and it is tough to parent. But that is why there is a parent – they are the ones to set the tone in the home and create order and peace. It is understandable for parents to have moments of frustration, as parenting can be a tricky task. Not only is infancy a time of rapid growth for the child, (already “by first grade, parent-child relationships are well-established”), it is also a new experience for many parents (Bornstein, 2007). The early years of parenting is an important time for parents to be on their best behavior while maintaining consistent, healthy parenting practices, but parents also have to deal with the stress of work, finances, and partner relationships alongside taking care of their newborn/young child. This is why there are programs to help aid new parents, which is something to take advantage of.

No matter what, there is always an alternative to spanking or other forms of corporal punishment, and healthy responses to misbehavior will have a higher success rate in reversing that misbehavior. The purpose of parenting is so that “children receive guidance that will best allow them to succeed in later life” (Darling, 1993). Parents need to listen to the needs of their children and be that guide for them, while educating themselves on how they should parent. The future of our world depends upon the quality of parenting that happens in the home, and it is imperative that we encourage people to educate themselves on the three main parenting styles and on the effects of each. It is also imperative that everyone understands the negative effects of corporal punishment, so that we can eradicate that from homes. We want to ultimately have a happy and healthy world where people can reach their goals and make a contribution to society. 

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