Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Have Authoritarian Parenting Practices and Roles Changed in the Last 50 Years?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Have Authoritarian Parenting Practices and Roles Changed in the Last 50 Years?

Article excerpt

Western societies have been changing rapidly over the past 50 years. The social and economic conditions for families today differ substantially from those of families living several decades ago. Also, social policies about families have changed. This leads to the question of whether there has also been a clear trend in the way parents raise their children. Is parenting today fundamentally different from what it was some generations ago? In this study, we attempted to answer this question by focusing on parenting practices typically associated with authoritar- ian parenting, such as directiveness (Robinson, Mandleco, Frost Olsen, & Hart, 1995); harsh parenting practices (Amato & Fowler, 2002); and strictness, punitiveness, and constraining the expression of negative emotion (Schaefer & Bell, 1958). We also looked at how parental roles associated with authoritarian ideals have changed, and we examined how these aspects of authoritarian parenting have changed over the past 50 years.

Authoritarian parenting was the first parent- ing style to be described by scholars. The first systematic studies of authoritarian parenting date from the late 1940s (e.g., Baldwin, 1948), whereas references to other parenting styles started to appear at least a decade later (Baum- rind, 1966). It is also the type of parenting most likely to have changed in the last 50 years, because the practices associated with authori- tarian parenting style reflect, at the family level, a traditional hierarchical structure common to many societies during the first half of the 20th century; that is, in hierarchical structures people in positions of authority expect obedience and unquestioning acceptance of their authority (see Durrant, Rose-Krasnor, & Broberg, 2003, and Gadlin, 1978). Disobedience usually is met with punishment. During the latter half of the 20th century, Western societies started changing from hierarchical organization toward more egalitarian structures (see Oppenheimer, 2004). In keeping with studies showing that harsh parenting practices have negative effects on children's development (e.g., Baumrind, 1966; Straus & Paschall, 2009), many authoritarian practices are now regulated. For example, the use of corporal punishment is banned in some countries (Council of Europe, 2009). These developments toward egalitarianism in society and the acknowledgment of children's rights make it plausible that parents' use of practices associated with the authoritarian parenting style has also changed. Given that authoritarian par- enting practices have been researched for more than 70 years and have guided legislation that regulates some aspects of parenting, authori- tarian parenting practices based on control are ideal candidates for the study of parenting trends in the second half of the 20th century.

In light of how parenting is embedded in culture and time, it is surprising that changes in parenting have not been the subject of much research. Few studies have focused on changes in parenting practices over time. Some suggest that there have been improvements in parent- ing and family life over time; for example, middle-aged adults born in Britain in 1958 felt emotionally closer to their parents than those born in 1946 (Ferri & Smith, 2003). Similarly, adolescents in a 2006 U.K. cohort reported that their parents showed more interest in them, were more inclined to listen to their ideas, and spent more time with them than adolescents from a 1986 cohort (Nuffield Foundation, 2009; Scott, Collishaw, Gardner, & Maughan, 2009). This suggests that parenting practices have become more child centered. Still, the evidence covers less than 30 years and involves rather positive parenting practices (i.e., affection, interest, time spent together). Furthermore, the use of positive parenting practices does not negate the use of strict, punitive parenting practices, given that they are two separate constructs (e.g., Amato & Fowler, 2002). …

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