The Authority of Parents

At Acton we are always asking questions like “When does a Hero submit to authority?” and “Does power corrupt?” so it’s not surprising that Acton parents ask themselves “What is appropriate parental authority?”

Here’s some food for thought from the field of psychology and human development.

You’ve probably read about “authoritative” versus “authoritarian” parenting. What are the differences in these styles? And how does Acton relate to one or the other?

Kendra Cherry, a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist who has published thousands of articles and authored the book, Everything Psychology Book simplifies the definitions:

“Authoritative parenting is a style characterized by reasonable demands and high responsiveness. While authoritative parents might have high expectations for their children, these parents also give their kids the resources and support they need to succeed. Parents who exhibit this style listen to their kids and provide love and warmth in addition to limits and fair discipline. The authoritative parenting style is usually identified as the most effective. Kids raised by authoritative parents have strong self-regulation skills, self-confidence, and happier attitudes.”

Authoritarian parenting, to the contrary, is described by Cherry as “characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children, yet provide very little in the way of feedback and nurturance. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly. When feedback does occur, it is often negative. Yelling and corporal punishment are also commonly seen with the authoritarian style.” (From the health and wellness resource website, “VeryWell,” April 24, 2017.)

Often, as new families move through our application process and learn how Acton is distinctly learner-driven, they start wondering if they should step back from their parental authority at home.

  • Do we need to focus more on pleasing our children?
  • Do we need to try not to say no so that they’ll “be more creative?”
  • Do we need to give our children the final say?
  • Do we need to stop stating clear directives and start asking?

The answer is very You’re the parents! The special, warm, authoritative, responsive relationship you have with your children is what’s prepared them for their Acton journey of being able to drive their own learning at school. While the Socratic method we use at Acton can enrich home life by helping parents stay curious and ask thought-provoking questions, the family zone is distinctly different from the school zone. Without your strong, authoritative leadership, they’re lost.

We believe parents are parents. Parents are not Socratic Guides even though it’s fun to play one at times. Children through their teenage years need parents to claim their role as authentic family leaders rather than abdicate that authority to peers, a school, or American culture.

Our model of learning attracts hard-working, curious, smart, and generous parents who sacrifice much so their children will find their greatest gifts and move into adult life prepared and with purpose. While we are an extremely diverse group in light of our religious, economic, cultural and political backgrounds, we are bound by the same principles of excellence, freedom, and responsibility. And we agree that children should be held accountable for their choices so they grow into great grown-ups who take extreme ownership of themselves instead of victims who blame others and the world when things go wrong.

And while we do not give parenting advice, what works at Acton Academy is most closely aligned with the description of “authoritative” parenting. Learner’s daily life in the studios includes high expectations but also high levels of encouragement: clear boundaries and consequences, detailed feedback, and lots of warm support all around.

When Acton guides, learners, and parents are in sync on the basic pieces of this perspective, a partnership is forged that benefits the children for the long run – even when things go wrong in their lives in the short run.

With this kind of adult relationship surrounding them, learners know they are loved deeply and that their choices matter. They know they are worth being held accountable and that they are capable of excellence. Who doesn’t want to be treated with that kind of dignity?

On the topic of parental authority, The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. is a wonderful resource. The data Dr. Sax presents is unsettling but the suggestions he provides to parents are simple and inspiring. (Teaser: You’ll be very interested in his research on why using growth mindset language doesn’t work well when it comes to instilling virtue, and why learning self-control may be one of the most important things our children achieve.)

Note: We customized this page from the content of Laura Sandefer’s blog post here . Thank you, Laura!