The Permissive Parent and the Crybaby
How much does one cause the other?
Is permissive parenting a misguided response to crybaby behavior?
I will argue in the affirmative.
We have all seen toddlers throw temper tantrums. And we tend to judge the parents, either for being too harsh are too soft. What I think of as the typical advice for parents is to use what is called an assertive style, which is sort of a Goldilocks middle way.
For example, Professor Google referred me to an article by an organization called the Center for Effective Parenting. It describes three styles of parenting. In the permissive style,
This parent does not hold the child accountable . . . and does not show herself to be the authority figure in the home.
Next is the aggressive style.
A parent using this style refuses to listen to the child’s point of view at all and is typically harsh, angry, and cold.
Both of these styles are said to impair the child’s development of healthy self-esteem. Perhaps the child of the permissive parent does not develop the ability to overcome disappointment. Perhaps the child of the aggressive parent does not develop the confidence that one can speak up for oneself and be heard.
In the assertive style, parents
are willing to listen and yet still hold firm so that the parent’s and the child’s needs are both basically met.
When setting limits, the parent does not get sidetracked, can provide choices, and allows the child an opportunity to participate in finding a solution.
As I interpret it, the permissive parent’s primary desire is to be seen as nice. You emphasize your sympathy. The aggressive parent’s primary desire is to show who’s boss. You emphasize your strength of will. The assertive parent’s primary desire is to be seen as reasonable. You emphasize your flexibility.
I am skeptical that parenting style makes a large difference in the personalities of children. A classic book, The Nurture Assumption, by Judith Rich Harris, challenged the empirical basis for believing that parenting style matters a great deal.
The main reason that I find it intuitively plausible that parenting style matters little for the child’s personality is that I observe a given set of parents with children who have very different personalities. I presume that the parents use essentially the same style with each child, which means that the personality difference must be either innate or due to some environmental factor outside of the home.
I think that the case for choosing the assertive parenting style is not that it molds the child into a better person but that it creates a more comfortable dynamic between parent and child. This is particularly true when the child is a crybaby.
Healthy children cry sometimes. If a child is making reasonable demands and those demands are not being met, the child is entitled to cry. When some children cry more than others, we can say that is because they are particularly sensitive.
But a crybaby child, according to my definition, makes many unreasonable demands and cries when they are not met. Such children are annoying to be around and challenging for parents to handle.
Concerning crybaby adults, Professor Google referred me to this article.
Going through adulthood and still coming out as a cry baby says a lot about how the person has been treated growing up. If your friend responds on their struggles with waterworks, this just shows that they believe that through their tears and whimpers they will always get what they want.
The article offers advice for handling a crybaby friend. The advice clearly steers us away from acting as permissive parents. It instead advises us to place responsibility on the crybaby for learning to handle his or her emotions. It strikes me that the idea is to use an assertive style with your friend.
Even if you cannot change the way a crybaby approaches life, it seems to me that the assertive style is a better way to handle a relationship. It avoids on the one hand giving in to unreasonable demands and on the other hand losing one’s temper. An assertive style limits the damage that the crybaby can do to you.
Which brings me to Richard Hanania’s recent essays. In Why is Everything Liberal? he suggests the people on the left are more highly motivated to engage in politics than people on the right. In 2016: The Turning Point, he claims that political engagement of the left ratcheted up with the advent of Donald Trump.
One can regard political activists, on either the left or the right, as crying because their demands are not being met. To the extent that their demands are reasonable, then more crying reflects greater sensitivity. If the left has reasonable demands, and they care about them, then that is a good thing. But if their demands are unreasonable, then this means that they are crybabies.
Of course, what is reasonable and what is unreasonable is likely to be in the eye of the beholder. But in my opinion, which I know is shared by Jonathan Haidt and many others, demands to be protected from “offensive” political views on campus, and now in corporations, are unreasonable. I see young activists as crybabies and I see college administrators and corporate HR departments as permissive parents.
We probably cannot change the personalities of social justice advocates. Perhaps we should not want them to change. But I think we should respond assertively, setting boundaries on how far we will let them push us and putting the responsibility for managing their emotions back on them. Our institutions should stop acting like permissive parents and start acting like assertive ones.
I'm not sure if I agree with Dr. Kling's comment—
"The main reason that I find it intuitively plausible that parenting style matters little for the child’s personality is that I observe a given set of parents with children who have very different personalities. I presume that the parents use essentially the same style with each child, which means that the personality difference must be either innate or due to some environmental factor outside of the home."
First, I'd question the assumption that the parents use essentially the same style with each child. I'd expect the style practiced with the firstborn to be modified with each subsequent child, both because of the parents' experience with the earlier-born, and because the parents grow older, more tired, and more willing to compromise with the later-borns.
Second, why does the environmental factor that produces the personality difference have to come from outside the home? Even if the parents are trying to practice the same style with all their offspring, every child comes into a very different environment, because of the presence or absence of older siblings. It seems as though each subsequent child would have to develop different strategies for obtaining attention and other resources from the parents, since if they try to employ the same strategies as those used by their older siblings, the older siblings will handily out-compete them.
I agree with the "assertive" approach except when it comes to my puppy to whom i am ridiculously permissive. I am actually more critical of the "aggressive" critics of the permissive social justice warriors, since those critics, in their aggression, are generally racist. I find that worse than the "snowflakes" they rail against.