In Defense of Authoritative (Not Authoritarian!) Parenting
Decades of research show that authoritative parenting is the most effective style for raising productive, well-adjusted, functional children with ADHD. What does that look like? Show your kids that you listen, validate their feelings, avoid getting sucked into the “argument vortex,” and leave the adult decisions up to you, not them.
“My 14-year-old decided he’s not taking his ADHD medication anymore.”
The first time I fielded this question I was floored. I thought to myself, What if he had diabetes and said, “I’m no longer taking my insulin” Would you allow that?
A gradual shift in parenting began in the early 1990s and I now feel we have traveled to the opposite end of the spectrum from the strict, stern authoritarian style that insists on quiet obedience and enforces behavior through punishments, not rewards. Where we have landed today is the territory of permissive parenting, which is warm and responsive but also lacking in structure and authority. Children of permissive parents often see and treat them more like friends than parental figures.
In between these two extremes is authoritative parenting, a distinct style that decades of research has shown to be the most effective. Authoritative parents are nurturing and empathetic, but they also set very clear expectations and reliably hold their kids accountable. They don’t resort to threats or punishments, and studies show that children raised by authoritative parents are more likely to demonstrate independence, self-control, and academic and social success. Still, authoritative parenting is not commonplace today.
The societal shift toward permissive parenting has been written about in depth, so I’m going to skip ahead to 2017, when pediatrician Dr. Leonard Sax released his book, The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups (#CommissionsEarned). The thesis of the book is this: When parents abdicate their authority (because they want their children to approve of them), a litany of problems can (and often do) follow.
In my professional experience, I have found that parents fall into this trap of allowing their children to make adult decisions for a number of reasons:
- They mistake their child’s intellect or ability to articulate for rational or mature judgment.
- They are driven by a desire to keep the peace at home and avoid conflict.
- They have difficulty with their child being upset or angry at them.
- They feel they were not listened to by their parents or had parents with an unhealthy authoritarian parenting style, so they try to parent in the opposite style.
In families of kids with ADHD, I often see another reason for parents treating their kids as grown-ups: parental guilt, which can occur for myriad reasons.
Here’s how allowing kids with ADHD to make adult decisions may have significant ramifications:
- When parents accommodate a child’s inflexibility (i.e. an unwillingness to try new things), this often leads to even greater inflexibility and, ultimately, an unwillingness to accept help. (Watch my ADHD Dude video about the “inflexibility trap.”)
- Kids with ADHD often say “No” to anything new or unfamiliar. When they can avoid new experiences, they are denied the opportunity to learn about themselves, develop their strengths, and build confidence through independent experiences.
- When children with ADHD and anxiety are allowed to avoid anxiety-producing situations, they are denied the opportunity to learn they can move through anxiety, which in turn denies them an important opportunity to develop resiliency and confidence.
- For years, I have seen kids with ADHD who are unmedicated but should not be, which greatly impacts their ability to learn in school, regulate themselves, and feel successful. Kids do not have the foresight or emotional maturity to know what will help them over the long term. When parents allow their kids to dictate whether they take medication, their learning, social relationships and overall health and well-being can be greatly impacted. If you allow your child to dictate whether they take medication, I believe you are doing your child a tremendous disservice that may have long-term ramifications.
The authoritative parenting style is not commonplace right now, yet decades of research has shown that it is the most effective way of parenting kids to become productive, well-adjusted, functional adults. I believe this time-tested approach to parenting is essential for kids with ADHD, and it is my hope that you practice authoritative parenting by showing your kids that you listen, validating their feelings, avoiding getting sucked into the “argument vortex,” and leaving the adult decisions up to you, not them.
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