How Does Respectful Parenting Fit with Screen-Free Parenting?

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There are two parenting approaches which are gaining traction today: “Respectful Parenting” and “Peaceful Parenting.” What are these approaches and how do they align with parenting research?

Per Dr. Laura Markham, a leader in “Peaceful Parenting,” and writer of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, peaceful parenting focuses on the connection between parent and child, emphasizes the parent’s role in setting the tone with the child, and encourages limits for the child be set with empathy.

Peaceful Parenting and Respectful Parenting share some similarities, but also some key differences.

Per Janet Lansbury, a leader in respectful parenting and author of Elevating child care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting, one of the keys of respectful parenting is treating children with the same level of human respect we would give an adult. A respectful parent develops a person-to-person relationship with their child, paying attention to the child’s unique perspectives, preferences and abilities.

For me, the Respectful Parenting approach puts into words  the way I naturally feel towards my children. I struggle with complaints about children, photos of children crying (in jest), and arbitrary rules for children. Reading Janet Lansbury’s work has only further solidified my belief in this approach.

What Research Do We Have on Parenting Types?

Approximately fifty years ago, Diana Baumrind conducted a series of landmark studies investigating how parents interacted with their children. The studies have continued and we now have decades of follow-up research tying parenting types to child outcomes. Baumrind and her team of researchers have identified three features of parenting that define four different parenting types. The three features are (1) Acceptance and involvement, often termed “warmth”, (2) Control or limit-setting, and (3) Autonomy or Freedom Granting.

For our visual learners, I will define the four resulting parenting styles in the following grid with written definitions and associated child outcomes below.

Parenting Style Acceptance and Involvement Control Autonomy Granting
Authoritative High High Appropriate
Authoritarian Low High None
Permissive High Low Inappropriately High
Uninvolved Low Low High Due to Indifference

 

Authoritative parenting is the most successful. These parents are warm and responsive, attentive to their child’s needs. The parents have high expectations for appropriate behavior. Their firm limits are explained and consistently enforced. They give their child the freedom to make decisions for him or herself as is developmentally appropriate. They encourage joint decision making and compromise and listen to the child’s opinions and viewpoints.

Authoritarian parenting is characterized by low acceptance and no warmth. These parents are cold towards their children. Yet, they have very high expectations for behavior. In contrast to Authoritative parents, these parents don’t enforce limits through consistency and explanations. Instead, they use manipulation, threats, and physical punishment. With regard to freedom, they offer none and do not listen to the child’s opinion.

Permissive parenting is characterized by parents who are very accepting, warm and involved in their children’s lives. However, they have few limits for their child’s behavior. These parents are notoriously lax about their child’s behavior. They grant their children unlimited freedom, encouraging their child to make decisions for him or herself before he or she is developmentally ready.

Uninvolved parenting is characterized by a parent who is not involved in their child’s life. Therefore, they have few or no limits for their child’s behavior and their child has unlimited freedom. In contrast to permissive parenting, the excessive autonomy granting is due to the parent’s lack of involvement. These parents often face excessive external stressors like addiction or poverty.

Where Does Peaceful and Respectful Parenting Fit with Baumrind’s Parenting Types?

In my opinion, both peaceful and respectful parenting can fit with Baumrind’s Authoritative parenting style. However, followers of these parenting philosophies sometimes misalign themselves with permissive parenting.

Don’t trust me though. The misconception that peaceful and respectful parenting are permissive is so pervasive that both Dr. Laura Markham and Janet Lansbury have written specific articles on why their parenting methodology is not, in fact, permissive.

Being respectful of your child means placing limits on things that they cannot yet understand or control. If “Peaceful” parents believe that they should give their children autonomy over everything, including things children are not developmentally prepared for based on brain science and our environment, then those parents have moved themselves into “Permissive” parenting. Permissive parenting is associated with some of the worst outcomes, as we discussed above.

How do Screens Fit Here?

Both Dr. Laura and Janet Lansbury are skilled parenting experts that have done much to advance the general public’s understanding of child development and parenting science. Janet Lansbury’s approach is incredibly respectful of children as autonomous, individual beings and encourage adults to avoid placing our agendas and excessive teaching on children. However, she also “respect” risks and challenges in our environment and believe the parent has a role in protecting those children from risk.

I have recently seen much about unlimited screen time for young children, with the goal of those children learning to “self-regulate.” Many of these writers are emphasizing respectful or peaceful parenting beliefs that have been inappropriately applied to screen technologies. While there may be an outlier child here or there, the average child under the age of 5 is incapable of self-regulating a medium that has been intentionally created to keep their attention as long as possible. In addition to the self-regulation issue, screens can hijack a child’s ability to entertain themselves, explore their world and develop their own interests.

Again, don’t trust me. Janet Lansbury and her mentor Magda Gerber who founded RIE both espouse strict limits on screen-use for children. Specifically, no screens in the preschool years and strict monitoring thereafter for content and over-use. Janet Lansbury writes about screen-time here.

If Peaceful Parenting is your vibe, screen self-regulation doesn’t fit there either. Dr. Laura Markham also encourages strict limits on television.

Limits Are Respectful and Encourage Peace

Let’s not get confused. It’s not respectful parenting to expect your toddler or preschooler to self-regulate a product that is designed to encourage over-use. It’s not respectful to put your child in a situation they are not capable of managing. Perhaps, most importantly, it’s not associated with positive child outcomes.

Want More? Here are some books.

Respectful Parenting

Peaceful Parenting

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