Authoritative parenting style is model for school discipline style

iStock_000020259358XSmallAdolescents have been shown to thrive under the care of parents with an authoritative parenting style, a style that combines structure and strict enforcement of rules with support and responsiveness to the teens’ needs, says a recent study in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

High schools that mimic this parenting style, that blend structure and support through the consistent enforcement of discipline policies and the availability of caring adults, have fewer bullying and victimization incidents, according to a statewide study of 290 Virginia schools. Over 7,300 randomly selected 9th-grade students and 2,900 teachers participated in the study.

“These findings suggest that discipline practices should not be polarized into a “get tough” versus “give support” debate because both structure and support contribute to school safety for adolescents,” write the University of Virginia researchers.

“The present study extends the concepts of authoritative parenting and teaching to the level of schoolwide discipline. In this study, we test a new theory of school discipline policies and practices called authoritative school discipline.”

While some high schools opt for creating a supportive environment that emphasizes student autonomy and independent decision making, it’s important for students to also develop a healthy attitude toward authority. Respect for and cooperation with authority should be nurtured along with autonomy, the researchers write.

Teens may be more open to upholding school rules and redirect misbehavior if they are regarded with respect. “A climate of structure and support is developmentally appropriate for adolescents because adolescents need adult monitoring and clarity of rules and expectations, yet they also need supportive adults who understand their perspective,” the researchers write.

Participants in the study completed online surveys about school climate and school safety. School structure was measured by 2 scales, the 7-item scale, Experience of School Rules and a second measure developed for the study, called the Daily Structure scale. Students were asked how likely it was for them to be caught or punished for 6 common problems including cutting class, coming late to class, smoking, fighting and speaking sarcastically to a teacher.

Measures of discipline and support

School support was measured by 2 scales. The Learning Environment scale measures how much students perceive that adults in their school are supportive and respectful of them and the Help-Seeking scale, taken from the School Climate Bullying Survey, measures student willingness to seek help from school staff members for bullying and threats of violence.

As part of the online survey, students and teachers completed a Bullying scale taken from the School Climate Bullying Survey. This scale asks students and teachers to rate the extent of teasing and bullying at school. They also completed a Victimization index.

In analyzing the data, researchers controlled for school level risk factors (size of the school, proportion of students of color and the proportion of students in the free- and reduced-price meal program) and individual-level risk factors (gender and race).

The researchers used hierarchal linear modeling (HLM) in their study because it allows for comparing school differences while taking into account within-school student and teacher variability.

Based on the survey responses, researchers classified schools into 4 categories:

  • Low structure/low support
  • Low structure/high support
  • High structure/low support
  • High structure/high support

“Schools with high structure and support were three-quarter to one standard deviation lower on bullying and victimization compared to schools with low structure and support,” the researchers write.

School-level disciplinary structure is particularly important at the high school level, the researchers write, A majority of the high school students in the study changed classrooms between 4-10 times a day. This is true of most high school students. Strategies for student behavior management are often focused at the classroom level, but high school students spend so much of their time moving from class to class that victimization and bullying are not confined to the classroom, the researchers write.

The online survey did not ask students about punitive disciplinary consequences such as expulsion and suspension which did not fit into the authors’ concept of structure, they write.

“Overall, structure and support explained between 8% and 50% of the between-schools variance in safety outcomes,” the study reports. “Said with caution given the correlational nature of the study, these effects are large enough to suggest that schools could achieve meaningful differences in levels of bullying and student victimization by improving their structure and support.”

“Authoritative School Discipline: High School Practices Associated with Lower Bullying and Victimization,” by Anne Gregory et al., Journal of Educational Psychology, 2010, Volume 102, Number2, pps. 483-496.

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