Kids don’t come with a manual, so us parents have to wing it. Our parenting style is mostly determined by what we’ve learned from our own parents, cultural and religious beliefs, and advice from others. As parents, our job is to protect, teach, and guide our children but how we go about doing it has great influence on their development and outcome.
Latino parents put a lot of emphasis on respect and discipline, which is important, but sometimes se les va la mano. It’s one thing to demand respect and enforce your authority, but some parents stifle their kids early on by burdening them with rules and punishments for every little thing and, especially in the teenage years, going on a relentless power trip. The “my way or the highway” attitude doesn’t make kids respect you more or behave better in the long run; it makes them resent you and rebel by doing things behind your back.
While being the ultimate authoritarian may beat your kids into submission and make them walk a straight line in their younger years, after a certain age they will stop trusting you and won’t tell you anything. What’s more, the minute they taste a bit of freedom, their behavior can get quite unruly because they can’t cope with having the liberty to do as they please and being in charge of their own decisions.
In Latino families, girls are definitely more affected by the overbearing strictness of authoritarian parents than boys. It is part of the machista culture, where boys are granted more freedom and opportunities, whereas girls need to be more “protected” and sometimes aren’t allowed to things like hang out with their friends or have a boyfriend.
Authoritarian parents may have good intentions and are only trying to keep their kids out of harm’s way, but they are actually causing more harm than good. Being a permissive parent, on the other hand, isn’t very effective either. When kids are allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want, they don’t learn about boundaries, self-control or responsibility.
It’s important to find the right balance of power and understanding. Being an authoritative parent is probably the most sensible parenting style. You basically let your kids know who’s the boss while still letting them express their individuality and explore the world around them. When kids feel that you’re being fair and reasonable with your demands and expectations, they will trust you and open up to you.
I have a teenage daughter and my rule of thumb is that if something seems dangerous, I won’t let her do it, but I explain the reasons behind my decision. Overall, she gets to do pretty much everything she wants. I need to trust her and give her opportunities to prove to both of us that she’s learned how to make smart choices and be responsible. One day she will be on her own, and I want her to be able to handle both the freedom and the pressures of adulthood. So I let her go out there to live and learn. And when she comes home, she’s not afraid to tell me all about it.