The Discipline Controversy Revisited

Article excerpt


Diana Baumrind**

Neither extreme position in the reincarnated discipline controversy offers parents an efficaciousmodel of childrearing today, any more than it did 30 years ago when the authoritative model was developed as a viable alternative to both the conservative (authoritarian) model and the liberal (permissive) model. Each polarized model contains its germ of truth, but each demonizes the other. It is argued here that within a responsive and supportive parent-child relationship, prudent use of punishment is a necessary tool in the disciplinary encounter.

In the course of 1995-1996, I was asked to speak at several conferences dealing with issues of socialization and discipline and, in particular, the place of physical punishment in the socialization process; this article attempts an integration of my position on the issues that were raised at these conferences. The controversy is first set in historical context, followed hy a consideration of what constitutes optimal child outcomes. Developmental and cultural factors are considered that must be taken into account for rational debate to occur concerning desirable child outcomes and consequent childrearing objectives. Socialization is construed as an aspect, but not the whole, of childrearing and is distinguished from disciplinary encounters, which, albeit prevalent in family life, are merely one among many socialization strategies. The major dimensions of childrearing are grouped under the two prime factors of responsiveness and demandingness, followed by an overview of different patterns of parental authority with an emphasis on the authoritative model, which is then contrasted with a contemporary Nordic model. The argument presented leads to the general conclusion that it is not the specific disciplinary practice but how it is administered and in what cultural context that determine its efficacy and longterm effects.

Historical Context

Sometimes framed as a liberal versus conservative dichotomy, the current reincarnation of this false polarity centers on the proper role of aversive discipline, particularly spanking, in the socialization of children. Within this polarity, current anti-spanking rhetoric (e.g., Hyman, 1990; Straus, 1994) is countered by Christian fundamentalist defense of strict and sometimes punitive parental authority (e.g., Dobson, 1992; Hyles, 19?2). The contemporary discipline controversy has resurrected this false polarization between a hierarchical paternalistic authoritarian model that places obedience as the cornerstone in the foundation of character (Hyles, 1972) and a child-centered rights position that demands for children the same civil rights as are possessed by adults (Cohen. 1980).

The authoritative model I posited some 30 years ago (Baumrind, 1966) rejects both extremes of the authoritarianpermissive (or conservative-liberal) polarity, representing instead an integration of opposing unbalanced childrearing positions. At one extreme, childcentered permissiveness high on responsiveness and low on demandingness is justified by a children's rights position; at the opposite extreme, restrictive parent-centered authoritarianism is justified by fundamentalist religious convictions. Within the authoritative model, behavioral compliance and psychological autonomy are viewed not as mutually exclusive but rather as interdependent objectives: children are encouraged to respond habitually in prosocial ways and to reason autonomously about moral problems, and to respect adult authorities and learn how to think independently. Neither arbitrary enforcement of restrictive directives (as in authoritarian relationships) nor avoidance of extrinsic motivators and externally imposed rules and structure (as in permissive relationships) characterize authoritative parent-child relationships.

The focus of the longitudinal program of research (Family Socialization and Developmental Competence Project [FSP]) I direct and of this article is on the relation between parental authority and normal children's development. …


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