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Monday, December 6, 2010

Parental Authority-Do Children Really Need as Much Control as Many Parents Claim?

Parents have been exercising authority over their offspring since  the human race has existed. As civilizations developed, parental authority became a prized aspect of the parent-child relationship. As children become adults, the status of the parent and the status of the child fizzles out, and the relationship becomes equal and often times very distant.
It came to be supported by governments, churches and schools, and children were eventually thought of as possessions shared by both parents that could be controlled as the parent pleased until they became adults and were then respected as human beings. Until the 1980's where the first parents were prosecuted for child abuse by the ASPCA, parents had unlimited claims over the child and could control them as they pleased.
 Children had even less rights than animals! Since then, the use of punishment has declined, yet parental authority is still very welcome in this society. The US government is reluctant to give children more power and more control over their lives, for fear that they will not handle is wisely, and that eventually society may crumble under their lack of wisdom or sophistication. A common belief is shared among Americans that children require a rigorous parental structure in order to be safe and develop properly.  The US government supports parental authority, and gives parents the right to make all decisions for their children, and punishes parents with an extreme lack of control over their children. Parents who are more lenient tend to be viewed as indulgent, and irresponsible. Children of more lenient parents are seen as spoiled.
There are three styles of parenting that are widely accepted throughout the US, Authoritarian, Permissive, and Democratic.
Authoritarian parents value obedience for the sake of obedience, and feel the need to have unrestrained control over their children. They set strict rules and strict consequences if the rules are not followed. To them, a child's main responsibility aside from getting an education is to follow their orders. They are low in warmth, and often do not explain their reasoning to their children. Permissive parents do not set rules, instead they give lectures and talks about the things their children do, and rarely resort to punishment. Democratic parents set rules, yet are supportive and warm when dealing with their children, listen to their children's arguments and opinions and change the rules when their children make sense.
Through toddler hood and elementary school, most children tend to respect parental authority and feel that parents can control every aspect of their lives. When middle school comes around, children tend to back off and demand more of their own choices. Many will resort to defying and battling their parents regularly until the parent either gives in, or the child results to sneaking and lying about their actions.
Parents of defiant children often push the issue entirely on the child, and never evaluate their style of parenting, resulting in a tainted relationship. Children eventually are unable to put up with the constant control and demand, and they eventually stand up for themselves after they have had enough. Parents often see this as unwanted rebellion, and disobedience. They keep attempting to set stricter and stricter boundaries, in which the child will not put up with. In reality, the child is realizing that parents should not have the right to control every aspect of their lives and seek to make their own choices. This conflict tears many parents and children apart, creating a tainted parent-child relationship for life in some instances.
Parental authority is a form of power over children that often times goes too far. Many times, parents stretch their control over into domains in which they should have no say. Parents often allow for little negotiation, putting the relationship in a position of inequity. Personal issues such as choice of clothing, choice of music, friends, television, and lifestyle habits such as food choice, bedtimes, would typically be considered off limits in adult-parent relationships and in other intimate relationships most often involving adults, such as marriage. Children are human beings, and it is not necessarily a horrible occurrence if they oppose their parent's will. If you ask most parents, they will say that they would never intrude their adult child or spouse's life in such a way, yet the life of a young child or adolescent is by all means acceptable to bend to their will.
What makes controlling the lives of children acceptable? Is life only for the sake of obedience. You would not like to be ordered around like a slave would you? Parental authority is what makes many college students happy to leave their parents. Too much control and authority by the parent can lead to sheltering and resentment, leaving the child uneducated and resenting of them for life. Punishment is practically useless, since many truly undesired actions are paired with natural consequences that are punishment enough and there is no need for artificial ones such as groundings or spankings.
Many punishments are issued as a violation of status or societal role as children, to submit to an adult's authority, (e.g punishment for talking back which would not be applicable with an adult).
The typical parent child relationship of modern times, resembles the typical husband wife relationship of the past. The wife submitted to the husband, was punished for failure to do so, and many activities required a husband's permission.
The parent child relationship is truly a loving partnership, like marriage without sex, or friendship. Parents should serve as mentors to their children and not as governors. Parents should back off in most instances, except for those in which are potentially life-threatening, or have the potential to cause permanent damage to one's self. Children should be allowed to discover some things for themselves.


  1. I have to compliment you for having your own strong point of view. Keep defining your own path!

    I know what you mean about the structure of parents putting expectations on kids, but remember young people having all of these options laid out in front of them is very new. Consider the world over, kids do not even have half of the options to worry about feeling a 'limitation of freedom'. This is an evolving process for parents.

    I really have to say I agree that kids are very constrained in our society. I wish there were more freedoms to explore. Unfortunately there has been a loss of innocence, too. When a young person takes certain risks, they pay the price and so do their parents. It's a matter not of control, but responsibility.

    You mention the abuses of parents that occur and fortunately more and more people are prosecuted for this. But far more parents are highly protective of their children because of the bond that it is to be a parent. You will not understand this until you are a parent.

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