Why Current Political Strategies Don’t Work

The government shutdown has been the center of quite a bit of debate, both in the media and in restaurants around the country.  As the drama continues, we find ourselves asking, “How could this happen?”  Interestingly, to begin to answer that question, it is helpful to analyze the shutdown from the lens of parenting styles.  This lens can offer insight into both how we arrived here and what we can do to remedy the situation.

Parenting Styles

Developmental psychologists have long studied the impact of parenting styles on children’s development.  In the 1960s, Diana Baumrind first outlined what has become the accepted list of the four types of parenting styles: 1) authoritarian parenting, 2) authoritative parenting, 3) permissive parenting, and 4) uninvolved parenting.

Authoritarian parents take the “My way or the highway” approach. Children in these households are expected to follow rules established by the parent without question. Authoritarian parents have high demands and expectations, but they do not offer guidance in how to meet these demands.  Instead, if the demands are not met, consequences follow.  Parents win every battle.  Parents rule the house.

Permissive parents establish few demands.  They are afraid of control battles so they placate and give in.  They avoid conflict.  They rarely discipline their children because they have low expectations for mature behavior.  They are lenient and establish few boundaries or expectations, but rather indulge their children’s desires without regard to resulting behavior.

Uninvolved parents generally lack any emotional involvement in their children’s lives.  They place few demands on their children.  They typically meet their children’s basic physical needs, but beyond that they are not a part of their lives.

Authoritative parents have high demands for their children, but they teach and guide their children in how to meet those demands.  They have rules in place, but also encourage their children to have a say in how those rules are established and maintained.  They listen to what their children say and the opinions are respected, though not necessarily implemented.  They explain the decisions that they make in light of their children’s input. Their discipline methods are not punitive, but supportive.  They are consistent and predictable in their expectations and responses.

The Impact of Parenting Styles

What effect do these parenting styles have on children? Researchers have conducted numerous studies that have led to conclusions about the impact of parenting styles on children.

Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children who are obedient, but they rank lower in happiness and self-esteem.  They tend to have difficulty with social competence and independence.

Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and the ability to regulate their behavior. They are more likely to have problems with authority and tend to have difficulty in school.

Uninvolved parenting styles rank lowest across all life domains. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

Children with parents who have authoritative parenting styles show the greatest happiness and success.  They tend to be more capable and confident and are able to regulate their behavior. They tend to be the most resilient.

Using Parenting Styles as a Political Lens

The four parenting styles are not new.  It is not new information that authoritative parents raise kids that are more confident, resilient and well-adjusted.  We have known that for years.  Wouldn’t it make sense to draw on that knowledge to learn how to build a society of confident, competent, well-adjusted, resilient citizens?

In our political system, we have become more divided as the Democrats and the Republicans are moving father and farther apart.  In their most extreme form, the Democrats tend toward a “permissive” governing style, advocating for entitlement programs that placate the needs of their constituents.  In their most extreme form, the Republicans tend toward an “authoritarian” or “uninvolved” governing style, arguing for high demands and little government intervention.  The trouble is, as we know from our studies about parenting, neither of these styles is effective.

By implementing “permissive” governing styles, we entrap people in the mode of relying on government support.  We disable them.  However, the “authoritarian” methods of removing entitlement programs without providing a means for people to support themselves sets them up for failure.

As a parent, the goal is to provide children with all of the tools and strategies necessary to enable them to grow into self-sufficient, independent beings.  Though we love them dearly, we do not intend to have them living in our households for the rest of their lives.  If they do, we have not done our jobs.

Similarly, the goal of the government should be to provide structures that enable its citizens to become self-sufficient and independent.  In order to do this, we need to draw upon the authoritative style: providing structures and supports as well as predictable limits.  We need to consider opinions, but in the end make decisions based on knowledge of what is best for the country and its citizens in the long run.

A Brighter Future?

Luckily, there are many examples of authoritative governing the we can use as models.  This month, at the Concordia Summit in New York City, they unveiled an index designed to facilitate P3 partnerships, partnerships between public, private, and non-profit entities.  Through these P3 partnerships, work is being done to provide people with the skills necessary to support themselves.  Rather than handout, entitlement models, they work on a framework of resilience, providing the tools that people need to become indelpendent.

One example of a P3 partnership that was highlighted at Concordia was between Education for Employment (Public), Consolidated Contractors Company (Private), and The Mastercard Foundation (Non-Profit).  Through this partnership, EFE has been able to successfully create economic opportunity to unemployed youth in the Middle East and North Africa.  By focusing their educational goals to the specific needs of the employer and securing the job opportunities through the partnership, EFE has created the environment that supports independence and resilience.

We know that authoritative parenting leads to children that are capable, confident and resilient.  If we want a brighter future, we need to be willing to learn to use the same style to raise capable, confident, and resilient citizens.


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