kitchen table math, the sequel: "Hold On to Your Kids" and "authoritative parenting"

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Hold On to Your Kids" and "authoritative parenting"

re: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté

I'm only a few pages into Hold On to Your Kids but already I feel my entire parental life rushing before my eyes: from Neufeld's perspective, everything looks different.

Ed and I are "authoritative parents," so much so that we ended up pulling C. out of public school and sending him to an "authoritative" high school (a Jesuit school).

"Authoritative parenting" is warm/strict (in Doug Lemov's terms). Actually, it's warm/strict combined with 'autonomy,' which means autonomy of thought, not behavior. Teenagers being raised by authoritative parents are free to think whatever they please without incurring the wrath of their parents. But the rules stand.

With authoritative parenting, warmth is as important as strictness; without the warmth you have authoritarian parenting, which does not work. But the name American psychologists have given to effective parenting is authoritative parenting, and I have always thought about "authoritative parenting" in terms of parental authority first and foremast. I took the warmth for granted.

Reading Neufeld, I think that's wrong.

I think the essence of authoritative parenting is that the parent-child attachment remains quite strong even through the teen years and even in the midst of a "youth culture."

A few minutes ago, I pulled out my copy of Steinberg's Beyond the Classroom and tracked down this passage, which I remembered from the book. Although it made a big impression on me when I first read it years ago, today I discover that it's almost a throwaway:
Adolescents from permissive homes are in some ways a mirror image of those from authoritarian homes. On measures of misbehavior and lack of compliance with adult authority, permissively raised adolescents often appear to be in some trouble. Their drug and alcohol use is higher than other adolescents, their school performance is lower, and their orientation toward school is weaker. All of this suggest some reluctance, or perhaps difficulty in buying into the values and norms of adults (most of whom would counsel staying out of trouble and doing well in school). At the same time, though, the adolescents from permissive homes report a level of self-assurance, confidence, and social poise comparable to that seen in the teenagers from authoritative households. Especially attuned to their peers, adolescents from permissive homes are both more capable in social situations with their age mates and more susceptible to their friends' influence. All in all, it appears as if parental permissiveness leads teenagers to be relatively more oriented toward their peers, and less oriented toward their parents and other adults, such as teachers.

The differences we observed among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive homes point once again to the power of authoritative parenting---this time, during adolescence--as an approach to child-rearing that protects adolescents from getting into trouble while at the same time promoting their maturity and successful school performance.
This may be the only passage in the book that addresses the subject of peer versus adult orientation. The rest of the book takes it as a given that all teens are effectively 'raised' by other teens (although that is not the way Steinberg puts it): that this is a natural state of affairs.

But it's not. A separate "youth culture" or "generation gap" is a relatively new phenomenon. The word "teenager" didn't even exist until after World War II.


Bostonian said...

Ultimately peers will matter more than parents, because people will find spouses from the former group. Parents need to remind 15yo's to think not only of what will impress other 15yo's but what will impress 25yo's 10 years from now -- like having a good job and education and not having a bad habit such as smoking.

P.S. Thanks to Catherine Johnson for her blog and for tolerating a wide range of commenters. Happy 2013!

Anonymous said...

Makes me feel a little better about my homebody son who just likes to hang around.


Catherine Johnson said...

Susan - RIGHT!

I haven't gotten to it yet, but I want to put up a Comment or two responding to Debbie S about C: I had the flip side of Debbie's experience, where my child ***was*** adult-oriented, and I was always a bit nervous about it. Why wasn't he out with his peers more? Why didn't he **want** to go out with his peers more? (Btw, he's 18 now, and he wants to go out with his peers. He is out with a peer now --- YUCK!)

Every once in a while I would mention my concerns to other adults, and they would look at me like they didn't know what I was talking about. One adult, who hired C., told us that C. "has leadership abilities."

Another adult told us that C. is the wit in his circle of friends. (Not the clown, the wit.) This was back at the end of 8th grade!

Another adult told us re: 'social anxiety" --- "He's not that shy."

(I'll get a post up with Neufeld's passage on shyness.)

All the things I was a wee bit worried about (and yet not THAT worried about) turn out to be symptoms of adult-orientation and adult attachment.

Sure enough, now, at age 18, C is developing exactly as Neufeld describes (I think - still only a couple of chapters into the book).

(btw, for people who don't know - I think this is probably worth noting - Debbie is my neighbor and friend ---- when I mention 'flip side' of Debbie's experience, this is something Debbie and I have been talking about intensely in the weeks since she discovered Neufeld.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Bostonian - thank you for the lovely compliment!

I have to say, though..... I fear I'm not as tolerant as I'd like to be. (Maybe meditation will fix that!)

ktm commenters have 'kept a civil tongue' for years now --- it's a bit amazing, really.

The real thank you is to all of you!

Anonymous said...

I was very nervous about it all. It just seemed to be the exact opposite of my experience and everything I've ever heard. But then if I'm honest, I probably shouldn't have been so peer oriented myself.

The other day I was suggesting, again, that he call someone up or go to a movie with a friend or something. He just looked at me with great annoyance and said, "Just stop it."

And I have to admit--every single only child that I have over known seemed more mature than those of us with siblings. And yet, parents fret about not having siblings for them to hang with.

It's important to note that the author is not against children playing or socializing. He's trying to warn of the peer orientation undermining the parent attachment. It actually makes a lot of sense.


Anonymous said...

Is this development exacerbated by the current infatuation of teacher as "guide by the side"? "Turn and talk" and "peer editing" with first and second grade students? Students arranged in pods so they are more likely to focus on their peers than the teacher in the front of the room? Small things matter in creating a culture in school and society. If the relationship of students vis a vis adults is so stilted in elementary school is there any hope that they will look to adults for guidance in middle and high school? I refuse to relinquish my postion as the expert in the room for my 6th grade history students. I do create a climate where they can dig deep into readings and form their own opinions. But those opinions must be supported by evidence and they are accountable to me to prove their point.

momof4 said...

I think the whole discovery, groupwork, guide-on-the-side, heterogeneous classsroom BS undermines teachers in a way that the ed world doesn't seem to understand. All of the above work to diminish and marginalize teachers, while decreasing their responsibility for instruction and their authority as experts. The ed world natters on forever about the importance of high-quality teachers, teachers as professionals etc. but never gets around to confronting the basic conflict. If teachers are so important, why is 5-10 minutes of their attention, in a heterogeneous classroom (where kids' achievement levels may span at least 5-6 years), as good as 60 minutes of their time in a heterogeneous class?

Catherine Johnson said...

Anonymous wrote:

Is this development exacerbated by the current infatuation of teacher as "guide by the side"? "Turn and talk" and "peer editing" with first and second grade students? Students arranged in pods so they are more likely to focus on their peers than the teacher in the front of the room?

oh my god ----- you are RIGHT

Yes, absolutely, "Guide on the side" is another manifestation of peer-orientation instead of adult-orientation.

I hadn't made that connection.

This is what I mean when I say that my entire parental life is rushing before my eyes. Neufeld's 'attachment theory' is the unified theory of everything where kids are concerned.

Great insight -- thank you!

Catherine Johnson said...

It's important to note that the author is not against children playing or socializing. He's trying to warn of the peer orientation undermining the parent attachment. It actually makes a lot of sense.


As I have to keep admitting, I've read only two chapters.

BUT he is clearly not **against** kids having friends.

He's really not talking about friendship per se.

He's talking about "peer orientation": about kids being more attached to peers than to adults, INCLUDING teachers and other adults in their lives.

He's talking about peers being raised by peers.

Susan (if you're around) -- Ed saw something interesting the other day. He took C & his new closest friend at college to a Nets game, I think it was, and his strong impression is that C is the 'leader' of that friendship.

We had just assumed C was the 'follower' --- and he's not. Not at all.

I'm pretty sure that kind of development is exactly what Neufeld predicts.

Catherine Johnson said...

Susan (I should probably write this off-list, but I think it's valuable enough to write on-list) --- your son's fantastic college essay is, I believe, evidence of 'adult-orientation.'

He came to that topic THROUGH HIS MOTHER. (For everyone else, I had been bugging Susan about macro stuff, and she had given it to her son to get his opinion....and then he chose to write his essay on a closely related topic.)

Oops- gotta run - back in a bit.

Anonymous said...

Well, you certainly helped him a lot more than me. You actually understood what he was talking about and could engage him on that level. I know he really enjoyed "talking" to an adult who understood him on that level. I just looked for bad sentences and spelling errors.

The book also writes about the pressure for all the play-dates when they're young. I remember feeling so guilty with my second son because I didn't got to a trillion play-dates with everyone.


Catherine Johnson said...

ok, back from the store

Gotta get this observation down correctly (warning: I'm going to delete if Susan says it's too private)

Susan and I are friends off-list -- in fact, Susan came to the funeral home to take care of Andrew during my mom's service, and I will always hold her in my heart for that.

(Dealing with Andrew in a huge sprawling funeral home is starting at the top, as far as I'm concerned. I think afterwards Susan said, "I think Andrew may have ordered some stuff from Amazon." He'd been playing on the computer there...)

Anyway, Susan and I email from time to time, and whenever the subject of the economy has come up I've seized the opportunity to proselytize on the subject of NGDP-targeting.

Susan gave the things I sent to her son to see what he thought about it. He has taken AP economics & is interested in economics (and is a math kid).

As far as I could tell, via Susan, he was skeptical.

So time passed, and then Susan got in touch about his college essay, which I had told her I wanted to help with. (I love working on college essays for some reason.)

He chose to write about the Federal Reserve & monetary policy (and did a fantastic job).

He did **not** write about NGDP targeting. He didn't even mention NGDP targeting.

But what he did write about was directly consistent with and I'm sure strongly influenced by the articles & blog posts I'd sent about NGDP targeting.

I think this is a perfect example of what Neufeld is talking about.

First, Susan's son was 'influenced' by an important adult, his mother.

THEN, Susan's son in fact created his own "autonomous" (a Steinberg term) take on the material his mother had given him.

And, third, he wrote a REALLY good and REALLY serious paper. There can't be more than a handful of high school seniors writing a paper that serious.

That paper sounded like the work of a serious person and a near-adult.

It's been hard to put that in words: it's been hard to caputure the 'x' quality of his paper that is so different from the writing of most students his age.

It's a good paper, it's a smart paper.

It is also an ADULT paper, or close to.

Catherine Johnson said...

I know he really enjoyed "talking" to an adult who understood him on that level.


That is the sign of an adult-oriented teen.

As Anonymous & momof4 pointed out, it's not just parents who lose the attachment when peers take priority, it's teachers, too.

An adult-oriented kid is also a teacher-oriented kid or a mom's-friend-who-helps-with-college-essay oriented kid.

An adult-oriented kid can also orient to the other adults he needs to orient to in order to progress, learn, and succeed.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh gosh, I'm on a roll here

I liked Susan's son's paper so much that I ended up writing --- what was it, two full pages of notes?


Before everyone passes out, I DID realize, after I had indulged myself, that no 17-year old wants to read 2 pages of notes on his college essay.

So I pulled out the bullet points that were important to change, put those up at the top, then told him, honestly, that I had enjoyed reading the paper so much that I had written 3 pages of notes. Their length was a reflection of my admiration for his work, not of a need for vast rewriting.

Truth be told, I didn't expect him to read the extended notes.

I later heard back from Susan, and it sounds like he did read them. She said she saw him reading and nodding and saying things like "Oh right" at various points.

That's a kid engaging with an adult -- and engaging very naturally.

Anonymous said...

Three, I think! Hah!

The bullet points helped a lot because it lured him back into the notes with more details. Plus he was reading all of your sources in case he needed to use them. I've never seen him work so hard in my life. We'd probably have a much different gpa around here if he tried like that with his classes

Why can't you just come over here and be his teacher? He might actually like school if you did.


Catherine Johnson said...

Three, I think! Hah!

I'm laughing!

Yeah, after I wrote all those notes .... I KNEW I had to figure out a way to get him to READ THEM (or even want to read them!)

But that's no truer for your kid than for anyone, child or adult.

Give me the headlines!


Catherine Johnson said...

For all my Ppwerpoint grousing, I am now a big believer in bullet points.


(btw, I have STILL, to this day, never created an actual Powerpoint presentation of my own ----- )

I'm going to have to post that Richard Hudson column on bullet points.

It tickles me that the bullet points **did** draw him into reading the extended notes because that's kind of the 'theory' of bullet points, I think. (Will have to reread Hudson.)

Doug Lemov is big on bullet points in the form of a big daily poster that lists exactly what is going to be learned today.

I've always wanted to do that, but so far I haven't given thought to how to do it EFFICIENTLY in a classroom that isn't mine (and often with limited whiteboard space).

Catherine Johnson said...

I've never seen him work so hard in my life. We'd probably have a much different gpa around here if he tried like that with his classes

Why can't you just come over here and be his teacher? He might actually like school if you did.

That is so cool!!!!

I would LOVE to be his teacher. Love, love, love!!

Catherine Johnson said...

one last thing .... I could tell, via email, that Susan was pretty nervous about whether her son was going to listen to me at all.

I kept telling her: he's going to LOVE getting notes from me because I think his paper is fabulous (and because in fact the changes I suggested were quite modest -- all having to do with addressing potential reader questions/objections, not with his argument).

How often do you have a teacher (or anyone) **really** spark to something you've written?

It's fun!

He really wrote a fantastic paper. He's in that 1% proficient category.