Is permissiveness the main problem with parenting nowadays? Permissive in the sense that kids get away with too much, run wild, fail to stay off people’s lawn, that kind of thing.
Based on what I’ve observed, permissiveness isn’t the sole problem, or even one of the most important ones. A lot of dysfunctional parenting involves excessive control or unrealistic expectations (like, “You will never fail, you will always be happy, you will always be my friend, you will be the answer to all my problems” etc.).
The three dysfunctional parenting styles I’m bringing up in this post are:
The Helicopter Parent
Helicopter parents hover over their kid in a stifling, unrelenting way that’s inappropriate for the kid’s age and abilities. They micromanage many or all aspects of their kid’s life and keep the kid from confronting reasonable challenges.
After thwarting their kid’s independence, helicopter parents say, “Because my kid can’t do things on their own, I need to swoop in and save them.” Excessive dependence is the result.
Kids of helicopter parents have a difficult time learning how to do things on their own, deal with setbacks, and work out interpersonal problems. They’re more likely to feel helpless and think of themselves as ineffective across different situations. Anxiety and depression can easily take root in them.
The Buddy Parent
There’s nothing wrong with parents and kids being friendly with each other or having fun together. But there are parents who act as if they’re friends with their kids the way a classmate or sibling would be.
They don’t tend to set rules, define boundaries, or act as a reasonable authority figure. (Far from consistently, anyway.) They want to be liked at all times. Some of them talk to their kids as they would to an adult friend and share their personal problems inappropriately. (They may in some ways wish to be kids themselves.)
In reference to the issue mentioned at the start of the post, this kind of parent is generally too permissive. (However, wanting to be their kid’s best buddy isn’t the only reason parents become overly lenient. Sometimes, parents aren’t particularly interested in their kids, and their permissiveness comes from being detached and neglectful.)
The Sculptor Parent
To these parents, the kid isn’t a person but a project. The kid can be shaped into a trophy, something the parent will be proud to display in-person and on social media. The kid can be crammed into the mold of an athlete, straight-A student, artist, scientist, beauty pageant contestant, or whatever else the parent needs them to be.
Parents who get competitive with each other, who strongly need approval from other people, or who want to live out personal dreams and hopes through their child are all susceptible to becoming sculptors. Another scenario is when parents can’t stand certain qualities in the child – usually qualities that the parents hate in themselves. They lack the self-awareness to deal with their emotions in a mature way, so instead they apply the chisel to the marble or squeeze and squeeze the clay, as if their kid can be made into anything.
This parenting style hampers the child’s ability to develop their own personality and explore their own interests. It teaches kids that they aren’t loved for themselves but for how they perform to expectations. Kids raised like this can wind up suffering burnout, depression, and an intense fear of failure, a sense that if they aren’t successful or given approval, they won’t be worth anything.
What Does Dysfunctional Parenting Typically Boil Down To?
There are other dysfunctional (and abusive) patterns of behavior that I haven’t covered here. But a key characteristic of dysfunctional parenting, regardless of the form it takes, is the parent’s inability to genuinely see their own child. They fail to treat the child as a distinct individual.
Parents wind up using the child to serve some psychological need. They may need the child to be a scapegoat, a vessel for the parent’s dreams, the parent v2.0 with certain bugs fixed, a clingy dependent who’ll never walk away, a best friend who’ll always like them, an uncomplaining servant, or whatever else.
Parents will often be controlled by this psychological need. They won’t be aware of it, at least not fully, and they’ll resist thinking deeply about their own actions, because the need is painful and powerful. Parents usually find ways of rationalizing their behavior (“I’m keeping them safe; I want them to succeed”). But these parenting styles aren’t about safety, success, or happiness. They serve the parent psychologically while undermining the kid.