As a parent, should you be authoritative, authoritarian, or neither?

The answer is the subject of a forthcoming paper and part of an ongoing series of studies by associate professor Esther Calzada. It is also the subject of one of her current research projects, which focuses on early childhood Latino development and has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Authoritarian parents are unresponsive, strict and overly demanding, ultimately impinging upon the development and academic achievement of their children.

“Authoritarian parents dictate rules but they really don’t provide the support to understand the why or the how behind them,” says Calzada.

Transitioning to full day kindergarten, via Creative Commons
Creative Commons

Authoritative parents provide support and nurturance and, while they maintain high levels of expectations of their children, they explain the rationale behind their expectations and the rules that they establish.

“What we found is that authoritative parenting was associated with children having higher academic achievement scores while authoritarian parenting was not,” Calzada explains.

“That was an exciting finding because our work up until now has shown all of the risks associated with authoritarian parenting but hasn’t really shown any protective factors — the question of what should we be doing to promote young kids’ development?”

This question led Calzada to co-create (with Drs. Laurie Brotman and Spring Dawson-McClure from the New York University School of Medicine) ParentCorps, an evidence-based, early-childhood education program that began in New York City in 2000.

Still running, the program focuses on kindergarten and pre-K minority students and works to develop emotional and behavioral skills to promote learning. It does so by training not only students but also parents and teachers in intensive 14-week modules intended to build an ideal home-school environment for learning.

Esther Calzada
Esther Calzada

“Early childhood, especially when kids are entering school, really is this time for them to get on the path to success,” says Calzada. “When kids don’t have the support to develop foundational skills, they’re much more likely to experience problems later on in adolescence.”

Since the beginning, ParentCorps’ methodology has been grounded in empirical research, which has won it a place on the prestigious National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices maintained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Another key interest of Calzada’s research is the role of culture in academic achievement:

“I’m really interested in cultural values. For instance, the Latino cultural value of respeto, which is this idea of operating according to a pretty clearly defined social hierarchy where kids defer to adults and adults defer to elders. Familismo is another cultural value I’m interested in, which is the idea that your family as a unit is much more important than you as an individual, and all the ramifications of that.”

These cultural values, says Calzada, likely play a major role in the development and academic achievement of Latinos but have rarely if ever been subject to academic inquiry up until now.

That’s one of the reasons why Calzada was most keen to move to Texas: to get a unique perspective on Latino culture in the United States as it has existed across generations.

“Because the Mexican population here has been around for so many generations, we can really understand more about culture and families in a much more nuanced way,” she says.

She also dreams of bringing ParentCorps to the state so that minority students could benefit from the direct application of her research to the classroom.

“I would love for ParentCorps to crop up here in Texas. I think there’s a great need for it. It’s completely applicable and would work within this context,” Calzada says.

Posted January 21, 2016. By Martin do Nascimento.