Because I Said So?

— Written By
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Twenty-two years ago, on July eighth, a hospital nurse rolled me to my car with a tiny one-day-old in my arms and sent me away with very few instructions about what to do next. I had attempted diapering and mastered car seats, but the next twenty-two years would be full of many successes and failures in this new, very important job called parenting we began that day.

Turning the clock back even more, I took a West Lee Junior High School class intending to teach me the ways of the world. I practiced useful life skills like balancing a checkbook, reading a music scale, building a resume, and parenting. This was the first time I was introduced to the concept of parenting methods, especially authoritative parenting versus authoritarian parenting. I was proud to recognize my own parents were modeling authoritative parenting. 

Over the 1960s and 1970s, Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, defined authoritative parenting, and since then, research has continued around this old, well-accepted parenting style. New research hasn’t changed the concept, only better defined it. What is authoritative parenting, and why does it matter?

Babies do not come with an instruction manual, but many authors try. Parenting and child development have been consistent topics for books over the decades. Our influence on our children is of primary importance to how they relate to the world and become contributing citizens.

Diana Baumrind defines effective parenting by how controlling and responsive we are with our children. There is a balance. Too much control with too little responsiveness becomes authoritarian, where good behavior occurs due to fear or unquestioning obedience and may be detrimental to a child’s developmental health and socialization.

Finding that balance between asserting our control, allowing our children to have input in matters that affect them, and consistently responding to their needs will compel obedience and allow the transfer of appropriate social skills to the relationships outside the family. Children of authoritative parents have better relationships with their peers and future romantic partners. They experience less conflict and are adaptive communicators.

When immediate safety isn’t an issue, parents should consider forgetting the phrase, “Because I said so.” Conversations that teach reasoning around rules and discipline allow children to choose obedience conscientiously. Practicing higher-level thinking in this manner grows discerning young people who may be less swayed by inappropriate peer pressure.

Today I am parenting a twenty-two, twenty, and seventeen-year-old and am understanding that my job is far from over. There is new research around a concept called emerging adulthood, but I will save that for next month.

For information and resources on this topic, please contact Pam Kerley, the 4-H Program Assistant for North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center. 4-H is a positive youth development program offering programs that suit a variety of backgrounds, interests, budgets, and schedules. From in-school to after-school, clubs to camps, 4-H’s programs are available in Lee County, and we welcome children who want to have fun, learn and grow. In North Carolina, 4-H is brought to you by the NC State Cooperative Extension. N.C. Cooperative Extension’s experts and educators share university knowledge, information, and tools you can use daily to improve your life.