Thursday, September 17, 2009

Permissive Families Breed Spontaneous Kids, Authoritarian Families Breed Directed Kids

Some parents are highly supportive of their children, some are highly challenging, some are both, and some are neither. This nifty four-fold division was used by Kevin Rathunde, continuing work of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, to look at how much some talented high school students were involved in their school-related activities. They had students wear pagers through a school week, beeping them several times a day to record what they were doing and how they felt about it.

The researchers were looking for highly engaging "flow" experiences. The students' responses were turned into a -.4 to +.4 scale, with the boring experiences at the -.4 end and the flow experiences at the +.4 end. They also had separate averages for the students' spontaneous activities and their directed activities

Rathunde then compared the average responses of the kids from each of the four kinds of families. The kids from the high support/high challenge families reported the highest average score - almost .35 - for both spontaneous and directed activities. The kids from the other three kinds of families all had average scores at or below zero for both kinds of activities.

What is most interesting to me, though, are the differences in the latter three families in which kinds of school-related activities, spontaneous or directed, went with which kinds of families. Kids from low support/low challenge families reported average scores a little below zero on both spontaneous and directed activities. This is a far cry from the high/high group, but, on the whole, they net out higher than the remaining two. These kids are on their own as far as their families go, so they make their own way with middlin' results.

Kids from high support/low challenge families (what Diana Baumrind, in a similar scheme, calls permissive families) are more satisfied with their spontaneous activities than their directed ones - about -.1 vs -.3. The low support/high challenge families (Baumrind's authoritarians) report the reverse: much higher satisfaction with directed activities (0) than spontaneous (-.4). This mixed finding from the mixed families is in the direction that I expected. I was surprised, though, at how much the permissive kids liked spontaneity and how much the authoritarian kids like direction.


surste said...

You say you were surprised. What expectations did you have? It does sound like an interesting study. Thanks for sharing it.

Gruntled said...

The appeal of this four-fold scheme to me is in the two extreme cells, the high/high and the low/low. I expected the middle cells to have moderate or muddled answers. I was surprised that the high support group so disliked directed activity, and the authoritarian group really dislike spontaneous activity.

randy said...

but just what precisely is a 'directed' or 'undirected' activity? i suppose games during PE would be Directed...while discussing the physical attributes of attractive young teachers w/your chums would count as Spontaneity? it seems to me that overall most activity at school will be Directed. it all sounds vague and inconclusive...

oddlyme said...

This doesn't feel right to me, there are so many other factors that are involved.

My parents were very involved, politically liberal - and yet spontaneity makes me shiver.

My sister is VERY conservative, very involved with her kids - and one lives for spontaneity, and one hates it.

There's much more to all of this than the study catches.