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Do Parenting Styles Emphasized By Popular Culture Affect The Development of Empathy?

What Type Of Parenting Styles Promote Empathy?

Recently Kate Gosselin of TLC's reality show "Kate plus eight" was quoted telling one of her older daughters to "give her a break" because she has had a rough year. Apparently, she had forgotten to sign her daughter up for an extracurricular school activity. This led to a number of her critics pouncing on the story, to claim how shallow and irresponsible of a mother she allegedly is. The critics were apparently based on the assertion that parents are not supposed to share information on how rough of a time they are having.

My take on the story is simple, Kate Gosselin probably felt guilty over forgetting to sign her daughter up for the extracurricular activity, and in addition to dealing with feelings of being overwhelmed, she made her statement in order to get her child to empathize with her.

Reality television sensationalism aside, there is an element of familiarity with the criticism being leveled at Ms. Gosselin, and that is the belief that parents should assume solely an authoritarian relationship with their children and they should limit the extent of personal information they share with their children. While it is obvious regarding the reasons parents should be cognizant about the type of information they share with their children, there is certainly a concern about the mental health consequences that could result with a child who never gets to understand the more human side of his or her parents. Time and time again, it appears that where a criticism is made of a parent in the media, the default agreement is that the parent being criticized should resort to an authoritarian style of parenting his or her child, except in cases of physical trauma resulting from child abuse.

There are three main styles of parenting, agreed upon by mental health clinicians. These styles are authoritative, authoritarian and permissive.

With authoritative parenting, parents are consistent in maintaining a balance between being firm and caring with their children. They have no problems setting clear boundaries with their children, primarily because when it comes to discipline, these parents are cognizant about coming from a place of caring. With authoritarian parenting, parents maintain rigid boundaries with their children, and consistently come from a place of power and control in the relationship. Typically with authoritarian parents, when their decisions are questioned by the child, they will usually respond with, "because I am your father - or mother".

With permissive parenting, parents typically set little or no boundaries with their children and as a result find little to no need to discipline their children. There are two types of permissive parenting, overindulgence, and detachment. With overindulgence, parents will excessively pamper and give in to the demands of their children while failing to establish healthy boundaries in the relationship most of the time. With detachment, parents are not emotionally present or involved in the life of their children. Of all three styles of parenting, authoritative parenting is deemed the most balanced and healthy.

Parents who practice the authoritative style of parenting, consistently practice a balance of firmness and caring in their relationship with their children. Authoritative parents routinely will share their positive and negative feelings with their children, and they routinely do so, without having any problems in maintaining healthy boundaries.

So how exactly do these parenting styles affect the development of empathy, or the lack there of? With authoritarian parenting, children are more likely to objectify themselves and others, this is because the fundamentals of their relationship with their parents or guardians from their early life experience, was mostly void of verbalization and expression of emotions. Authoritarian parents are for the most part rigid and stark with their children, and children raised by such parents struggle to understand the feelings of others, as they find themselves more comfortable with with rule based relationships and structures.

Children raised by overindulged and permissive parents, have a tendency to develop a false sense of entitlement, and present to others as being too self centered. While children raised by detached permissive parents, struggle to make meaningful connections with others in their lives. Given that empathy is the practice of understanding and caring about others, the typical consequences of being raised in a strictly authoritarian and permissive parenting household, can lead a person to struggle considerably in understanding the concept of empathy, talk less practicing the concept.

When criticizing a parent, most self appointed critics tend to default to encouraging an authoritarian style of parenting. This is because society prefers for children and adolescents to be well behaved and respectable, and of course when ever the ideals of an authoritarian parenting style is evoked, it is usually compared to more permissive styles of parenting, which is traditionally frowned upon. The idea of a minor calling his or her own shots and running amok, is something most people frown upon.

Time and time again, there are stories in the news media about a screaming child and his or her family kicked off a public space, because some patrons decided that they could not bare the child's tantrums anymore. For some reason, it typically occurs on planes, such at this story. It's not as if, none of us were never children and we didn't give our parents or caretakers, our own share of grief.

There are currently no solutions being proposed to counter the emphasis of authoritarian parenting in today's culture, except to be the change that you believe fit.

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