It’s Time to Reclaim Parenthood


By Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D.

Over the past half-century or more, we have witnessed (a) increasing levels of narcissism, self-focus and self-entitlement among youth; a decreasing sense of (b) purpose and moral character; (c) increasing difficulties in coping and emotional regulation; and (d) poor academic work ethic and achievement.

During this same period, there have been changes in how we raise our children.  In particular, we have experienced a cultural shift from adult-centered to child-centered approaches to raising children   In child-centered parenting is organized around the interests and needs of the child.  Child-centered parenting evolved as  well-intentioned attempt to foster the development of autonomy, independence and creativity in children.  It emerged as a reaction against what was perceived as the over-authoritarian nature of adult-centered parenting.

The movement toward child-centered parenting has played a central role in fostering the trends in child development to which I have alluded above.   Child-centered parenting builds on the idea that children are active in their own development.   This is, in fact, true: Children do play an active role in their own development.  However, as psychologist William Damon has noted, while this is a truth, it is only a half-truth.  The other half of the truth is that parents also play an active and indispensible role in fostering children’s development.   The error of the child-centered movement is believing either the parent or the child is active, but not both at the same time.  Given this way of thinking, it was easy to conclude that too much direction from parents could squelch a child’s natural initiative, creativity or autonomy.

But nothing can be further from the truth.  Although children are active in their own development, they also need guidance, direction and support from active parents.   It an attempt to foster individual initiative, creativity and self-esteem, child-centered parenting fails to hold children to high standards of moral conduct, social responsiveness, and academic motivation.  In the absence of consistently clear parental guidance and direction, we are producing generations of children that are less socially, morally and academically skilled than their predecessors.

is time to reclaim parenthood.   Hundreds of studies in developmental psychology suggest that the key to optimal parenting lies in a combination of both high parental direction and loving support.  This approach is called authoritative parenting, and stands in contrast with authoritarian or permissive styles of parenting.  Authoritative parents set high expectations and help children live up to those standards; they enforce high moral standards with loving acceptance.  They promote self-control with social responsiveness; they teach children to make responsible choices within firmly established limits.