Strict Versus Nurturing Parents

The estimable Stanford historian Larry Cuban writes:

Historians have analyzed these advice manuals (see here).

What they have found are basically two child rearing models that are similar to Tiger Moms and Guilty, Nurturing Moms.

I label them Strict Parent vs. Nurturing Parent.

Of course, these models span a continuum and are not mutually exclusive. Many parents use hybrids of the two in their families. And just as obvious is that all parents presented in advice manuals are not white, middle and upper-middle class Moms and Dads. Race, ethnicity, social class, religion, and geography shape the views parents have as they enact Strict, Nurturing, and hybrids of each in parenting.

Strict parent model teaches children right from wrong by setting clear rules for their behavior and enforcing them through punishments, typically mild to moderate but sufficiently painful to get attention.

When rules are followed and children cooperate, parents show love and appreciation. Children are not coddled since a spoiled child seldom learns proper behavior. Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant by following the rules and listening to parents.

Nurturing parent model teaches children right from wrong through respect, empathy, and a positive relationship with parents. Children obey because they love their parents, not out of fear of punishment. Parents explain their decisions to children and encourage questioning and contributing ideas to family decisions. Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant through being nurtured and caring for others.

Larry goes on to describe how parents often seek schools that reinforce that type of parenting.

I agree that Montessori schools have parents seeking to reinforce their home behavior.

At least some KIPP parents, however, want those schools because it’s the opposite of what they do at home. These parents describe their child, upon entering the admissions lottery, as not doing much studying at home. Mom might say she wants someone to push her kid, where the school is a substitute for a type of parenting they want their kids to get, not a mirror.

I want to read through some of the history here.

Bonus thought. In the comments section, Jim writes:

There is now an extensive body of evidence from behavioral genetic studies showing that parental styles within a wide range have little effect on how children turn out. Robert Plomin’s recently published book “Blueprint – How DNA makes you who you are” discusses the evidence for this.


That comment led me to Plomin’s recent article in Psychology Today.

During the past four decades, scientists have used special relatives, like twins and adoptees, to test the effects of genes and environment. This research has built a mountain of evidence showing that genetics contributes importantly to all the psychological differences between us. Inherited DNA differences account for about half of the differences for all psychological traits — personality, mental health and illness, and cognitive abilities and disabilities.

The environment is responsible for the other half, but genetic research has shown that the environment does not work the way environmentalists thought it worked. For most of the 20th century, environmental influences were called nurture, because the family was thought to be crucial in determining environmentally who we become.

Genetic research has shown that this is not the case. We would essentially be the same person if we had been adopted at birth and raised in a different family. Identical twins reared apart from birth are as similar as identical twins reared together in the same family. Children adopted away at birth resemble their biological parents, not their adoptive parents.

Experiences matter — parents, teachers, friends — but they don’t change who we are. The impact of our experiences is mostly unsystematic, unstable, and idiosyncratic — in a word, random. What look like systematic environmental effects, such as correlations between parenting and children’s development, are mostly reflections of genetic influence. In the tumult of daily life, parents mostly respond to genetically driven differences in their children. We read to children who like us to read to them. We go along with their appetites and aptitudes.

Putting these findings together calls for a radical rethink about parenting: Parents matter, but they don’t make a difference environmentally. Parents matter tremendously in their children’s lives. They provide the essential physical and psychological ingredients for children’s development. Parents are the most important relationship in children’s lives. But parents do not make much difference — in terms of how their children ultimately differ from others — beyond the DNA they provide at the moment of conception. Parents can control their children’s behavior, but they can’t change who they are.

A rebuttal from Oliver James here.

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