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Flaura Winston with car seats

Welcome to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice's newest monthly feature: Jewish Parenting. Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston M.D. Ph.D. shares her experience as a Jewish mother, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at University of Pennsylvania, and Attending Physician at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Please send feedback to Dr. Winston at parenting @ 

The Four Parents

In just a few days parents across Philadelphia will tell the Exodus story to their children at the seder. The rabbis instruct us to tailor our account to the needs of our children - the "four sons" (wicked son, wise son, simple son, and the one who does not know enough to ask). What a wonderful parenting lesson! No two children are alike and even the same child has different needs at different times and in different situations. Herein lies the core challenge of parenting. Just as we master one phase of childhood, get our approach and messages just right, our children grow and develop and we face new parenting challenges. No wonder many of us feel that parenting is one of our toughest jobs - the job description keeps changing! 

Some parents seem to resist child development, remaining rigid in their approach to parenting, while others submit to the whims of their children, setting few boundaries. Even within a marriage, parents can have vastly different parenting philosophies. Many arguments between moms and dads are over child rearing - each parent claiming that he or she has the right approach. Let me try to shed some light on the dispute by moving it beyond opinion to scientific evidence. 

Just over a decade ago, Dr. Diana Baumrind, Research Psychologist at the University of California Berkeley, recognized that we each have a basic parenting style according to our children. To simplify things, she realized that our basic style can be described by two attributes: high or low firmness, and high or low support.  Keeping these in mind, she described four parenting styles - authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent, and uninvolved. These styles are colored by how parents go about achieving obedience.

  • Authoritarian parents: very firm, demanding and directive, but less supportive. "They are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation." Often, these parents achieve obedience through guilt, threats, and other forms of manipulation. These parents tend to see their children's behavior and achievements as an extension of themselves. 
  • Authoritative parents: firm and demanding, but very supportive and responsive. "They monitor and impart clear standards for their children's conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative." While these parents can be just as demanding as authoritarian parents, they don't use guilt, threats or manipulation.
  • Indulgent parents: not firm, setting few limits, but supportive. "They are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation." 
  • Uninvolved parents: low in both firmness and support. These children are left to make their own path with little parental involvement or expectations. 

In a landmark study of more than 4000 teens, Philadelphia's own Dr. Laurence Steinberg, Professor of Psychology at Temple University, and colleagues asked teens to classify their parents according to these four styles and looked at how well the children were doing. Their research highlighted the important role that parents play in shaping their children. 

Children from authoritative families (firm yet supportive) fared best - better adjustment, more competence and achievement, more confident about their abilities, and less likely to get into trouble. Children from uninvolved families (parents low in both firm control and support) fared worst. These children were most likely to lack confidence, social and academic competence, have psychological problems, and get into trouble. Children from authoritarian families (firm and directive but relatively less supportive) obeyed and conformed, did well in school, and stayed out of trouble, but these children lacked self-confidence and demonstrated poorer social skills and higher levels of depression. Children from indulgent families (supportive but not directive) were somewhat disengaged from school, more likely to be involved in drugs, alcohol, and minor delinquency but were socially competent and demonstrated lower levels of depression. In sum, parenting that involves firmness and clear expectations delivered in a supportive, loving, non-punitive environment that encourages social responsibility, self-regulation, and cooperation is the best recipe for success.

This Passover, we might want to think beyond the "four sons" to their "four parents". Which parent best describes us under most situations? Authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent or uninvolved? How would our children characterize our parenting? How would we describe our own parents' parenting of us? What of their parenting worked for us and what did not? Are we passively repeating our parent's style or are we crafting our own style that best meets the needs of our children: supplementing the best of our parents' parenting with new, informed approaches? These are terrific questions to think about alone and to discuss with our spouse or our parenting partners. Our children see their moms and dads as a parenting team. It can be very confusing to a child if parents do not share a common set of expectations or if their parenting styles clash, particularly if these clashes turn into arguments in front of their children. 

While we all know that we as parents are but one influence on our children, extensive research (and common sense) demonstrates that we are the most profound influence. How exciting (and scary)! Careful thought and planning about our parenting style can help us navigate this parenting adventure! I hope that all of our children will grow into competent, compassionate, independent adults; that is, "wise sons (and daughters)." Happy Passover. 

About The Author: Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston

In 1995 I made a discovery that singularly galvanized my research approach - research to action to impact. Two tragic cases came through Children's Hospital, where I practice pediatrics, infants in rear-facing child safety seats who died in crashes survived by the driver. As a pediatrician, a doctorally-trained engineer, and a physician scientist who studies injury, I immediately recognized that the air bag, a new safety technology designed to protect adults, was responsible for the deaths of these children. Who was protecting the children? This led me down the path to create the world's largest child-focused crash surveillance system with Partners for Child Passenger Safety, a comprehensive research and outreach program dedicated to advancing the safety of children through research, and a parent-focused child passenger safety website to get credible, current science to parents. The tragic cases of motor vehicle crash deaths of children highlighted for me that the value of research is only realized when it is translated for those who can effect change, and parents are my key partners in protecting children. From installing child safety seats in their cars to setting driving rules for their teenagers to comforting their children through injury, when prevention fails, parents are on the frontlines. It is with this background and as a Jewish mother of two boys that I write this column, understanding the importance of research, practical application, and translation and delivery of this information to parents. 

Children are growing, developing individuals. As parents, we need to balance nurturing their emerging independence with setting clear limits. This column will not only bring the latest information on preventing the leading cause of death to children, injury, but also on all topics of interest to those concerned about the safety and well-being of Philadelphia's children. I hope to address the everyday challenges of parenting that many of us face, placing the latest science and expert advice on parenting into a Jewish context. Feel free to send your reactions, thoughts, experiences, and suggestions for future columns to parenting @ I hope that we can all learn from each other and together raise a community of mensches! 

Jewish Parenting Calendar