Old School and New School Parenting: An Overview

Old School and New School Parenting:
An Overview

We were all probably raised in the Old School method of parenting, which worked pretty well for most of us. The Old School approach, a power and control approach, is not bad or wrong. It’s been around forever, and will be around as long as there are parents. But when it doesn’t work well with strong-willed or angry children, parents need some new ideas.

This article presents parents with a comparison of old and new approaches.

The Problem of Control

The single biggest problem that parents present in my classes and coaching is control of their children’s behaviors. I should say, misbehaviors. So many children are resistive, argumentative, stubborn, rude, even defiant toward their parents. The parents’ problem is that the parenting methods their own parents used with them (which may have actually worked quite well) simply do not work as well with many of these bright, articulate, independent-minded, but immature and self-centered children. What I call the Old School methods might, indeed, work well in many families, where the children are more easy-going and compliant. But in many stressed families, the Old School approach isn’t cutting it. What’s needed is a more sophisticated, more thoughtful approach. And I call it the New School approach to parenting.

Here’s a brief comparison of the two approaches.

The Old School Approach to Parenting

For eons, right up till today, the idea of parental authority in raising children has meant top-down authority, with the parents making rules, setting expectations, and demanding compliance or obedience from children. This is not a bad model. The paradigm, or model, for this approach can be summed up this way: 1) the parent has the authority and does most of the talking, including 2) establishment of the rules; 3) the child is expected to obey; and 4) the parent punishes resistance or disobedience in order to encourage compliance.

         Parents Speak –> Rules –>  Obedience –> Punishment

As I said, this is not a bad model. After all, parents do know better than children how the home should be run, what proper behavior is, and what the rules should be. But in stressed families, or in stressed parent-child relationships, when commands and punishments are ineffective, this model tends to not work well.

Commands and punishments are often ineffective because children want their own way, and often do not like being told what to do. (I must say, I don’t blame them–I don’t like being told what to do either.) They have at their disposal highly sophisticated toys and influential networks of other children which stoke the fires of curiosity, independence, and autonomy within them. They often develop their own ways of resisting and defying parental rules and expectations, as they become more connected to the world outside the home, more savvy, more desirous of innumerable attractions, and more strong-willed than perhaps we were as children. They might evade their parents’ guidance by getting caught up in sophisticated electronic games, the internet, cell phones, and other influences beyond their parents’ reach. Finally, children who are angry at parents can show a remarkable–and frustrating–ability to be unfazed by a parent’s punishments or deprivations.

For parents who are separated or divorced, and bearing the burden of being a single parent who might have enduring conflicts with the other parent, the challenge can be even greater. Their children are often confused, hurt, and resentful that their parents couldn’t make it work, and feel to some extent abandoned by them. They are also immature, and easily find ways to play their parents against each other to get what they want. (Of course, children of positive mother-father relationships find ways to play them against each other too.)

So what are parents to do when the Old School model does not work well with their children? A new, more sophisticated approach to parenting that I call “New School” can be far more effective with strong-willed, independent-minded children who might also be angry. This is a more sophisticated model for parents to use in raising children, because it goes beyond the more primitive methods of inflicting punishments to coerce compliance. It can succeed very well where the Old School methods fail and when children don’t comply the way we expect them to. Why?

The New School Approach to Parenting

The reason this model can succeed where the older model fails is that the new one responds so much more directly to children’s innate need for control while not giving the reins of authority and ultimate decision-making over to them. It takes advantage of the children’s intelligence and desire for independence and ability to verbalize their wants and demands. It does this by completely changing the rules of the (parenting) game, and the expectations that parents have of their children. It looks like this.

       Dialogue –> Agreements –> Cooperation –> Accountability

The catch is that this new model requires that parents use better relationship skills with their children. In order to have meaningful dialogues with two-year-olds and teenagers (and everyone in between), parents need to use self-control and develop better communication skills. They need to do things like listening; refraining from yelling, threatening, and lecturing; using I-messages to express their values, expectations, and desires; offering choices; and, above all, negotiating agreements with children, then holding children accountable to what they agreed to.

In a New School approach, parents start with genuine dialogue with their children about expected behaviors and their consequences. (Yes, parents really can negotiate these things with two-year-olds! And even with kids who have ADHD.) Children (like adults) are much more likely to follow through on what they have had some control in setting up–in other words, they’re more likely to cooperate. And a New School approach prefers children’s cooperation over obedience. We want them to cooperate, and voluntarily choose to do what we want them to do. This is not a pipedream. It works.

But not always! Children (just like adults) will at times break their agreements. So instead of punishment, New School parents demand accountability: “What made you break your agreement? I take this very personally, because when I make an agreement with you, you expect me to keep it, don’t you? And that’s what I expect of you, too. Isn’t that fair?” Even young children know that’s fair. It’s the Golden Rule, which is the ultimate basis for all legal systems in the Western world.

A New School approach requires that we change our expectations of our children: they can negotiate agreements in age-appropriate fashion if we are willing to take the time. It demands that we treat them with the same respect that we so ardently desire from them, and that we give to other adults: namely, we don’t just boss them around, or treat them like slaves or robots. It demands that we let go of our own egos a bit, and see our children as capable of thinking, of understanding, of being fair, and of being responsible. Then we are willing to put them to the test, and to hold them accountable when they fail.

All of my writing, my parent classes, and my parent coaching is geared to helping parents to enhance (or learn) the skills required to successfully implement the New School model. While it takes some effort and commitment, it can be done. And when done, it is effective, as hundreds of parents in my classes have shown and documented.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

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