In our effort to leave behind the harsh parenting tactics that generations before us suffered through, we may have swung a little too far in the other direction. Now, we tend to give children room to make decisions that they aren’t developmentally prepared to make — and try to protect them from all of life’s challenges, which can leave them ill-equipped to function as adults. As Michael Mascolo writes, we need to move to a middle ground.
In 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting For Modern-Day Families, part of Norton’s 8 Keys to Mental Health series, Mascolo provides a guide for parents who want to make the transition away from an overly-loose style and toward a more, well, old-school one. But he does not think we need to go back to the other extreme, either.
Indeed, he frequently refers to the two extremes of parenting as permissive versus authoritarian. Permissive parents, he writes, take a child-centered approach, letting their children take the lead in decision-making. Authoritarian parents, meanwhile, take the opposite approach, giving the child little or no opportunity to make choices.
But there is another option. According to Mascolo, a more effective type of parenting means taking an authoritative — rather than authoritarian — approach.
Authoritative parents actively guide their children through life, taking their needs into consideration and maintaining a strong sense of discipline along the way. Some of the eight keys to this approach include valuing parental authority, cultivating character, applying discipline rather than punishment, and managing conflict.
Each key also comes with plenty of useful examples, charts, sample dialogues, and research-based explanations. And each drives home the point that children will learn best from their own collective experiences.
One of my favorite sections in the book details how to apply discipline instead of punishment. After clearly explaining why punishments and rewards do not help in building a child’s sense of self, Mascolo encourages parents instead to follow a different course: clear limit-setting with plenty of discussion, and meaningful consequences as opposed to punishment.
What’s the difference? Mascolo defines punishment as an unpleasant experience to deter behavior — whereas a meaningful consequence is an unwanted outcome as a result of behavior. As a teacher, I’ve often wished that parents (and even some of my fellow teachers) understood this concept, as students who understand meaningful consequences are usually much more motivated to make better choices for themselves.
I also enjoyed Mascolo’s tips for fostering emotional development in children. It is important, as he writes, to allow kids to experience challenges and failure and navigate their own way. For parents who are new to this, Mascolo provides a great explanation (along with a graphic) of how to encourage children to embrace challenges without pushing them to the point of extreme frustration.
When young ones go through difficulties — with some guidance — it gives them the opportunity to build true confidence and self-esteem. They learn to trust their own judgment and coping skills, which is crucial to their development.
As I read Mascolo, I almost felt like cheering. His book supports much of what I’ve learned in child development and education classes, as well as lessons I’ve learned both as a teacher and a parent. Children need to be nurtured, but they also need clear boundaries and appropriate challenges.
Parents who read this book and are not familiar with the concepts may find the information overwhelming at first, but the methods Mascolo presents do work. Of course, there are situations where children don’t respond to authoritative parenting, and, in that case, it may be helpful to seek professional help. Old-school parenting, as Mascolo sees it, does indeed require a lot of work on the part of parents, but that work pays off as the child develops into a confident, resilient adult.
I would recommend this book for both parents and teachers, as it provides many useful tips, explanations, and resources. My only complaint about the text is a small one: frequently missing words that distracted me as I read.
Wherever you fall on the parenting spectrum, it’s helpful to remember that most parents are sincere in trying to raise their children to be successful, caring adults. But in my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a book that encourages parents to take an active, authoritative, and nurturing role as they guide their kids through the trials and joys of growing up.
8 Keys to Old-School Parenting For Modern-Day Families
W. W. Norton & Company, May 2015
Paperback, 288 pages