“She didn’t want to do it so I didn’t make her.”
“I didn’t want him to go, but he really wanted to.”
These are just a few comments from parents that I hear more and more. A deference to the child’s wishes over their parents’. I see it on social media. I hear it from parents at the ballpark. Parents are having an increasingly hard time saying no to their children, and it has nothing to do with the child.
Did you know there are four parenting styles that have been identified for decades?
The authoritative style is widely acknowledged to result in the best outcomes. The other three all have significant issues. While all of us have moments of using the other styles, none of us should primarily operate that way. If you really want to take a deep dive into the different parenting styles and their effects on children, here are two great articles: 4 Types of Parenting Styles and Their Effects On The Child and 4 Types of Parenting Styles and Their Effects on Kids.
The one I’m interested in today is the permissive parenting style. I’ve noticed in my experiences that this style seems to be more and more prevalent. Maybe that’s just the circles I’m in, but if you’ve noticed the same, I’d like to chat about it for a minute.
In recent years, there has been a push for respecting children’s boundaries and teaching them that consent matters. This is absolutely, unequivocally necessary. Please don’t hear me say that these things are not important. We need to listen to children when they feel uncomfortable around someone. We need to teach children that they can or cannot give consent and adults will honor it.
But there are boundaries around some situations that children cannot create themselves.
This is where I think there has been a breakdown. In an effort to respect children’s wishes and give them autonomy over their decisions, some parents have completely deferred to their children. Children lack a fully developed prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that makes rational decisions) until they are 25. TWENTY-FIVE! We have to be their prefrontal cortex. We have to show them the rational decision. They are not going to figure it out on their own.
The thing that stands out to me in every description of the permissive parenting style is that parents show an extraordinary amount of warmth and responsiveness to their children. These are not bad parents. These are parents that are wanting to show love to their children to the fullest.
Let’s instead love them to the fullest with a long-term goal in mind.
Research has a lot to say about the long-term outcomes of a permissive parenting style, but most of us can probably play this out in our own heads. If children are always allowed to decide what they are or are not going to do, they’re going to have a problem when they get that first job. They’re going to have issues in school when a teacher enforces rules.
So what kind of boundaries do we enforce then? Well, that’s what you need to decide. I’m not trying to tell you how to parent your children. I’m just trying to encourage you to think about long-term outcomes in your parenting decisions. Your kid doesn’t want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch? Okay, let that one go. Your kid doesn’t want a bedtime? That may be a boundary you need to enforce.
What character traits do you hope to develop in your child? What social skills are important to you? Kids are their own people and will be who they are meant to be, but you have a HUGE influence in how and if these skills develop. You are their guide.
Are parents perfect? No. Release that expectation on yourself. But I want to encourage you, if you think you might be leaning a little too heavily toward permissive parenting, to spend some time thinking about what boundaries you may need to teach. Where is some indulgence good? And where is indulgence becoming the trend?