What Authority Do Parents Have at Acton Academy?

Laura Sandefer

February 16, 2018

What is appropriate parental authority?

This is something we’ll explore more deeply with the Eagles in the fall as we circle back around to one of the most powerful Overarching Questions of all: When does a hero submit to authority?

To prime your pump for the coming months, I wanted to share information on parenting styles 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.)

There is a funny misconception about Acton Academy and it comes to me most often in the form of a question: Do you really believe parents should step back and let the children rule the roost like they drive their learning at school?

Simple answer: No.

We believe parents are parents. Parents are not Socratic Guides even though it’s fun to play one at times.

While many of the methods we use at Acton benefit life at home – writing a family mission statement and tracking family goals, for example – we believe 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 responsible heroes rather than 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. The Eagles’ daily life in the studios includes high expectations; clear boundaries and consequences; and surplus amounts of feedback and warmth to support each Eagle.

Being in sync with parents on the basic pieces of this perspective forges a partnership that benefits the children for the long run – even when things go wrong in their studio lives in the short run.

With this kind of adult relationship surrounding them, the Eagles 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.

To support our partnership with you, I have a couple of summer reading suggestions.

On the topic of parental authority, I recommend, “The Collapse of Parenting” by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. 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.) I have a purchased copy for each of my Acton families and I’ll be handing them out at school over the next few weeks – a little summer gift to you.

I also would recommend, “How to Raise and Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims.

Happy parenting!

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