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Teenagers reap broad benefits from 'authoritative' parents.

Teenagers reap broad benefits from 'authoritative' parents

Attention, harried parents: Supportive control gets the nod over permissiveness if you want to nurture a psychologically healthy teenager, according to an ongoing study directed by psychologist Diana Baumrind of the University of California, Berkeley.

PArents who consistently set down clear standards for conduct and offer freedom within specific limits produce teenagers who perform better on academic tests, are more emotionally and socially stable, and use alcohol and illicit drugs substantially less than youngsters from other types of families, Baumrind reported last week at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in New Orleans.

"The study demonstrates the problems with parental leniency," she says. "We expected that at puberty, some imbalance in favor of freedom over control would have become desirable, but that did not happen."

Many traditional theories of psychological development, based on the work of Sigmund Freud and Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, encourage a more lenient parental style with adolescents, emphasizing freedom over control. Such theories hold that an individual's prime task during the teen years is to separate emotionally from the parents and achieve a sense of his or her own identity.

The traditional approach may be appropriate in a stable social environment, Baumrind asserts. But in today's climate of social instability -- marked by many mothers entering the work force, a high divorce rate and readily available illicit drugs -- adolescents function best when parents are highly demanding as well as sensitive to a child's emerging needs for autonomy, she says.

In fact, Baumrind notes, this style of parenting, which she calls "authoritative," even confers advantages on adolescents who use alcohol and drugs heavily. In her study, she defines heavy users as teenagers who reported getting high on alcohol or drugs several times a month. The few heavy users from authoritative families and those from "Democratic" families -- where parents stress permissiveness somewhat more than setting down limits -- did much better on academic achievement tests and showed more emotional stability than heavy users from the five other family types.

The 124 youngsters in the Berkeley study were born in the mid-1960s and their parents were born in the 1930s. The researchers studied families when the children were 3 years old, and then twice more, when the children were about 10 and 15 years old. Most participants were white, middle class and well educated.

At each point in the investigation, one team of observers spent at least 20 hours with each chile and a different team spent about 30 hours with the parents, compiling a wide range of data on their behavior and emotional functioning. Researchers interviewed each parent separately and videotaped both parents during interactions with the child at home.

Baumrind and her co-workers divided the sample into seven parenting styles: 21 families were authoritative, 25 were democratic, 21 were "authoritarian" (extremely restrictive and demanding but providing little emotional support or consideration), 7 were "directive" (obedience-oriented and moderately supportive), 7 were "nondirective" (setting no limits and moderately supportive), 30 were "unengaged" (providing neither control nor support) and 13 were "good enough" (adequate, but not outstanding, in control and support).

Adolescents from authoritative and democratic families showed by far the most social competence, maturity and optimism, Baumrind says. They also scored the highest on verbal and mathematical achievement tests. However, significantly more heavy drug users and "dependent" drug users, characterized by daily use, came from democratic homes than from authoritative homes.

"Authoritative parents are not bossy," Baumrind says. "They make it their business to know their children, how they're doing in school and who their friends are. Their control reflects a high level of commitment to the child, and they are not afraid to confront the child."

The lowest drug use appeared among teenagers from both authoritative and authoritarian families. But the researchers found that youngsters in the authoritarian families, particularly daughters, were more unhappy, had more emotional problems and scored lower on achievement tests than their peers.

Reports of sexual activity and heavy or dependent drug use came most often from adolescents with unengaged parents, followed closely by adolescents from nondirective families.

Teenagers from goo-enough homes displayed no serious problems and did fairly well on achievement tests. Daughters in these homes reported extremely low self-esteem, however. This finding is difficult to explain, Baumrind says. "These girls may need something more from their parents, perhaps a sense of being special," she suggests.

Although the authoritative parenting style proved most successful in this sample, Baumrind notes that well-functioning children also came from other types of homes, especially democratic ones.

Divorce was most frequent among authoritarian and unengaged parents, she adds. But single parents who used the authoritative style had teenagers who were just as competent and well adjusted as teenagers from intact authoritative families.
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Author:Bower, B.
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 19, 1989
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