Parenting Gone Rogue? 

Picture Credits: Sheikh Arsh

Parenting Practices and Mental Health of Children

By Wasim Kakroo 

IN Kashmir, a lot of importance is pinned on the treatment of elders by kids. The discipline to treat elders with a certain level of respect is inculcated in children from a very young age. Children are taught the rights of elders, especially parents , over them. However, rules and ways of parenting are either inherited, adopted or adapted without much thought. Some children get lucky and others face the brunt of bad parenting all their lives. The bad parenting practices often go unnoticed because our society only places importance on the rights of parents over kids while ignoring the rights of children. Therefore, bad parenting practices are neither flagged not chided — it continues unabated without correction.

Since at least the 1920s, developmental psychologists have been interested in finding how parents impact the development of children's social and emotional competence. In this regard, a construct known as "parenting style" has been under study for all these years as it is one of the most important constructs that has helped researchers to understand the link between parenting and its impact on various developmental aspects of a child’s life.

The term "parenting style" refers to the strategies that parents employ when raising their children. It's about how you engage with your kids, as well as how and why you raise them the way you do. The way you parent your children depends on many factors such as the philosophy you have about parenting, the experiences you had about parenting you received when you were growing as a child at your home, your own personality etc. Parenting style is also influenced by subconscious factors that you are unaware of. Your parenting style may have an impact on your child's or adolescent's mental health, as well as their academic, social, and emotional development, no matter how it develops.

There are various types of parenting styles that have been described. The four major recognized parenting styles are:

In the Authoritative Parenting style, parents are loving, responsive, and supporting, but they also set firm boundaries for their children. They use rules, discussion, and reasoning to try to manage their children's behavior. They consider a child's point of view but do not necessarily accept it. Parents who practice authoritative parenting provide clear guidelines and are democratically responsive to their children's needs. Rather than behaving like a rigid boss, they are communicative and willing to listen to their children. Authoritative parents are able to understand their children's emotions and teach them how to manage them. Misconduct is punished in a measured and consistent manner, rather than in an arbitrary or violent manner. Rather than punishing the inappropriate behaviors, the natural repercussions of indulging in various inappropriate behaviors are discussed with the child, helping him/her to recognize that the behavior is wrong and should not be repeated. Thus child may stop the behavior because he/she understood that continuing the behavior is not healthy for him/her rather than simply for avoiding negative consequences. Authoritative parents set boundaries and expect maturity from their children, and they are more likely to explain why they are punishing their child in a particular situation. In some situations, this may lead to the child's better understanding and compliance. This parenting style elicits cooperation from the children. Growing up in an authoritative family not only gives a child a firm foundation, but it also ensures that they keep a close bond with their parents throughout their lives. This parenting style produces children who are pleasant, energetic, joyful, self-reliant, self-controlling, curious, cooperative, and goal-oriented.

Yet another type of parenting style is the Authoritarian Parenting style. Children are expected to follow the firm rules established by the parents under this parenting style. Failure to observe such regulations is frequently met with punishment. The reasons for these rules are never explained by authoritarian parents. If asked for, the parent may simply say, "Because I said so."

Despite their great expectations, such parents are not very responsive to their children. They want their children to behave extraordinarily and avoid making mistakes, but they give very little guidance on what they should or should not do in the future. Children of such parents who make mistakes are punished often harshly, but they usually are unable to understand what mistake they have made.

Such parents confuse respect with fear. They expect their children to be fearful of them than to be respectful towards them. Authoritative parents are more interested in inducing obedience in their children, and they expect their commands to be followed without question. They are frequently seen as autocratic and overbearing. "Spare the rod, spoil the child" is their philosophy.

Such parenting practices may have various adverse effects on the mental health of children who receive such a type of parenting. Because the authoritarian parent generally tells the child what to do rather than allowing the child to choose for themselves, such children have less social competence, making such children appear to excel in the short term but limits development in ways that become increasingly apparent as direct supervision and control from parents decline with the passage of time. Children reared by authoritarian parents are more likely to be conformists, obedient, silent, and unhappy. These kids are vulnerable to depression and self-blame.These traits might persist throughout adulthood for some children raised by authoritarian parents. Children who are bitter or angry about being reared in an authoritarian household yet have developed high behavioural self-confidence frequently fight back in adolescence and/or early adulthood.

Children who experience anger and resentment, as well as the negative effects of low self-efficacy and high self-blame, are more likely to engage in avoidance behaviours, such as substance abuse, and are more likely to commit suicide.

It is important to note that our society unfortunately praises this type of parenting practice without understanding its adverse effects on the mental health of children.

Diametrically opposite to the authoritarian style of parenting is the Indulgent/Permissive/permissive/non-directive/libertarian/anti-authoritarian parenting. The parent in this style is responsive but not demanding. Indulgent parenting is defined as having little behavioral expectations for the child. "Indulgent parenting" is a parenting style in which parents are very involved with their children yet do not impose many demands or limits on them. Parents are loving and accepting of their children, and they respond to their wants and desires. Indulgent parents don't expect their children to self-regulate or act responsibly. Children of indulgent parents will pay less attention as adults to avoid behaviours that cause others to be aggressive.

Parents with permissive style try to be "friends" with their children rather than playing their role as parents. The child's expectations are modest, and there is little discipline. Permissive parents also allow their children to make their own decisions while providing friendly guidance. There are little punishments or regulations in this form of parenting. Permissive parents also offer their children whatever they want in the hopes that their accommodating behavior would be noticed and appreciated by their children. Other permissive parents make up for what they lacked as children by providing their children with the freedom and resources they lacked in their own childhood. Researchers have observed that pre-school children with permissive parenting later turned out to be immature, lacked impulse control, and were unruly.

Children of permissive parents never learn to control their own behaviour and always expect to get their way and as adolescents may get involved in various delinquent behaviors such as substance abuse.

Yet another parenting style, albeit poor is Neglectful/uninvolved parenting. Here the parent is indifferent and undemanding. Such parents let their children do anything they want. Neglectful parents, unlike indulgent/permissive parents, do so because they are disconnected from their children's needs. Neglectful parents are unaware of what their children are up to, and if they do find out, they are unconcerned.

It has been seen that parents who have an uninvolved parenting style were frequently raised by parents who were uninvolved and disapproving. They may find themselves repeating the same patterns as they received when they were growing as children. Other parents who exhibit this style may simply be so preoccupied with their own life that they find it simpler to interact with their children in a hands-off manner.

In some situations, parents may be so preoccupied with their own issues (e.g., being overworked, dealing with depression, or battling substance abuse) that they fail to recognise how uninvolved they are with their children or are simply unable to provide the emotional support that their children require.

In practically every sphere of life, the children with uninvolved parents fare poorly. Deficiencies in cognition, attachment, emotional skills, and social skills are common in these children.

Children raised by uninvolved parents may struggle to build healthy attachments later in life due to a lack of emotional responsiveness and love from their caregivers.Children with uninvolved parents are more prone to misbehave since there are no boundaries in the home, making it difficult to learn proper behaviors and limits in school and other social contexts. As a result, children of such parents are generally lonely, depressed, and immature, have poor self esteem and have a hard time adjusting to societal norms. They are more prone to fall victim to abusive relationships, engage in dangerous behaviors such as substance abuse, promiscuity, and sustain injuries

Some lesser known parenting styles include Helicopter parenting in which parents are excessively focused on their children. It involves involvement in a child's life in an overprotective, overcontrolling, and overperfecting manner. Helicopter parenting refers to parents who assist high school or college-aged children with chores that they are capable of completing on their own (for instance, calling a professor about poor grades, arranging a class schedule, managing exercising habits). In toddlerhood, a helicopter parent may continually hover over the child, playing with and controlling his actions, leaving him with no time alone. Helicopter parents in elementary school try to ensure that a child has a specific teacher or coach, choose the child's friends and activities, or provide excessive help with homework and school projects.

Children of such parents may have low self esteem and self-confidence, they may have underdeveloped social, emotional and other coping skills, may experience more anxiety and may feel entitled to have their desired positions in almost every area of their life.

Additionally, there is Lawn mover/snow pillow/bulldozer parenting. Snowplow parents are willing to drop everything to meet their child's wishes and demands, no matter how insignificant they are. They essentially "plow down" anything that gets in the path of their child. Lawnmower parents frequently have good intentions and do not want their children to suffer through hardship. These practices, however, do not provide a basis for long-term happiness, and they might actually exacerbate a child's fear of failure.

So what can parents do to improve their parenting skills?

Looking at the impact parenting can have on the mental health of children; parents have a huge responsibility towards their children so that they become effective parents and hence help their children live a mentally healthy and respectful life.

To understand more about effective ways that are beneficial to children, parents should read books, websites, and articles devoted to childrearing. They should join workshops to understand and listen to the experts in the field of child rearing.

Additionally, research has shown that parent training can help parents become more involved in their children's lives in an effective and scientific way.

Moreover, speaking with a mental health expert such as a psychologist can help you put your own experiences into context and learn new skills that will help you form healthy ties and limits with your children.

One must also make a concerted effort to spend more time with your kids. Listen to what they have to say and gain insight into their lives. It's not simple to change, and it's even more difficult if you're a busy working parent. Focus on carving out as much time as you can to give your children your undivided attention.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar). He can be reached at 8825067196 

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