Outreach: Establishing Roots and Encouraging Wings

As parents, our foundation for all that we do for our children emanates from a place of love. But what happens when the desire to keep our kids safe from the world ultimately leads to children incapable of making decisions for themselves?

In How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims describes students heading off to college as “Under-constructed. Existentially Impotent.” Lythcott-Haims asks, “Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?”

Humans require the opportunity to face down the smaller storms of life to survive challenges that may seem insurmountable without the skills developed through trial and error. When we deprive our children of experiencing uncomfortable emotions, we are not allowing them to build capacity for emotional regulation. We’ve all heard about grit and resilience; these attributes do not develop when children are unable to feel into their emotions, where they naturally develop self-comforting skills.

Psychologists Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin identify four parenting styles:

Authoritative This is considered the most effective form of parenting for most children. Authoritative parents set high expectations, standards and limits, which are upheld with consequences for their kids, while understanding their kids’ limits. Communication is flexible, making parent-child interactions easier. They give their child freedom to explore, to fail and to make their own choices.

Neglectful Neglectful parenting can mean a lack of time spent with the child. Neglectful parents may be unfamiliar with their kids’ teachers and friends. They may not care for their kids’ basic needs. This type of parenting is rarely practiced on purpose. This type of parenting can be damaging to kids long-term.

Permissive/Indulgent Permissive parents are nurturing, loving and supportive. However, they tend to attend to their child’s every need, complying with their child’s every request. Permissive parents are reluctant to establish rules, let alone enforce them. They may avoid conflict at any cost, giving in on a regular basis. Doing this can be harmful for children, as they thrive on routine.

Authoritarian Authoritarian is not the same as authoritative parenting. Authoritarian parents are strict and demanding with their children, and punish their children for failing to comply. Their parenting style is not often flexible. They value achievement, order, discipline and self-control. While their children carry a lot of responsibility in the home, there are very few freedoms outside of it. There is rarely room for open communication between parents and kids.

Even if you are able to identify with one of these parenting types, it’s not always that simple.  All decent parents are trying to do the right thing; however, each child is unique, bringing with them their own challenges and idiosyncrasies.

How we go about child-rearing may reflect experiences from our own upbringing; cultural norms and societal expectations. Levels of education as well as socio-economic status also play a part. Don’t discount the tremendous pressure social media places on parents as well.

Outreach’s professional counselors provide parent consultations for those with questions about what’s normal behavior for a middle schooler; how to navigate through a divorce; supporting a struggling teen and myriad other subjects. We are here to support you as you navigate the waters of the most important and difficult job you’ll ever have.

Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth age 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment.  412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.