Pitfalls of Permissive Parenting

Learn More About the Pitfalls of Permissive Parenting

You’ve likely come across a permissive parent – the mom who lets her child run wild with no rules or consequences, or the dad who showers his child with love and affection even when the child is misbehaving.

Though the result is never intended, children of permissive parents often turn out spoiled and entitled. “There are many wonderful things about this generation of children,” said Jesse Quam, LCSW, the clinical director at SUWS of the Carolinas wilderness therapy program for teens. “They are resilient, intelligent and have lots of potential, but there are also many challenges.”For example, if a teen is used to being rescued, they may not know how to get through hard times and face the even bigger challenges that lie ahead. They may give up easily and stop working hard in anticipation of mom or dad coming along to fix their problems. By rescuing their teen, parents send the message, “I don’t think you can deal with this on your own,” noted Quam.

Because permissive parents try to shelter their children from difficult emotions, the kids miss out on opportunities to build their own sense of competency and self-confidence, added Brooke Judkins, PhD, LPC, the family program manager at SUWS of the Carolinas. They tend to face extreme emotional highs and lows because they haven’t learned how to tolerate and manage difficult emotions.

When parents set poor boundaries, teens often respond with disrespect and rebellion. If a teen doesn’t feel that their family meets their needs, they tend to find a “second family” among their friends. As a result, parents lose their authority and teens become heavily influenced by the opinions and actions of their friends.

Finding the Best Parenting Approach

The goal, according to Quam and Judkins, is to achieve a balance between warmth and firmness. One approach that achieves this balance is the Love and Logic™ approach, which is utilized at the SUWS of the Carolinas wilderness camp. Some of the fundamental concepts behind this parenting approach are:

  • Giving teens age-appropriate choices so that teens can exert their free will without parents dictating to them
  • Responding to teens’ frustrations with empathy, using comments like “I’m so sorry you’re going through this”
  • Using “enforceable” statements, such as “Feel free to go out tonight after your room is clean” or “We’ll continue talking when you stop interrupting me,” rather than an “unenforceable” statement like “Clean your room” or “Stop interrupting.”

Here are a couple scenarios that demonstrate the creative solutions behind Love and Logic™ parenting:

Scenario 1

Cindy didn’t study for her math test and got a C. Cindy’s mom suggests that she should study harder next time, and Cindy replied, “No, I’m happy with a C.” Without lecturing or criticizing, Cindy’s mom decided to pick Cindy up from school just 70% of the time. The school is close to home, so the child wasn’t in danger, but Cindy had a chance to experience what 70% effort looks like in a real-world setting.

While it takes practice to deliver the message factually, without sarcasm or passive-aggression, this approach allowed Cindy to appreciate the consequences of her decisions and to decide for herself if her actions would get her closer to her goals.

Scenario 2

Dan starts a fight with his mom before dinner about not being allowed to go to a concert, and then pulls strings to get his parents to start arguing with each other. This allows him to get out of trouble and turns the focus away from him.

The Love and Logic™ approach teaches parents to take a moment, explain to the child that they are frustrated and need a few minutes to figure out a solution with the other parent in private. Then the family can come together to address the issue later that day or the next morning, without fighting or allowing the child to manipulate the situation.

When a disagreement occurs, teens tend to get emotional quickly and try to pull their parents into a yelling match. By refusing to engage in a power struggle, parents can think through their response rather than reacting emotionally.

Parenting Tips from the Pros

The ultimate goal of Love and Logic™ parenting is to strengthen the teen’s connection with their family. Judkins recommends that parents take baby steps rather than attempt to make radical changes that aren’t sustainable long-term. For example, resolving not to react emotionally to a disagreement with your teen just 5% of the time may be enough to shift the family dynamic, she said.

The staff at SUWS of the Carolinas receives considerable training in how to find the balance between support and accountability. Through two-day parenting workshops, families learn how to achieve the same balance at home. Parents work on questionnaires and genograms to help them assess their parenting style and identify intergenerational patterns.

After years of being protective and rescuing their child from difficult situations, parents who send their teen to SUWS of the Carolinas are sometimes worried that their child will “break,” said Judkins. But they are relieved to discover that their child is far more resilient and capable than they thought and that the wilderness program is a healthy environment where their child can learn and grow.

“Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to do,” said Judkins. “No parent will get it right 100% of the time, but subtle changes and a willingness to try something different can translate into a happier family life.”

The wilderness therapy offered at SUWS was the dynamic solution needed to help my son with his behavioral issues. When my son left SUWS, he was completely changed for the better and also created new bonds and unforgettable memories! I can't recommend SUWS enough for anyone in a similar situation!

– Britney A.