078: You have parenting goals; do you know what they are?
We all have goals for our children, even if these are things that we’ve never formally articulated and are ideas we’ve inherited from half-remembered bits of parenting books and blogs (and the occasional podcast) and the way we were parented ourselves.
But do you ever find that the way you’re parenting in the moment doesn’t necessarily support your overarching goals? So, if you have a goal to raise an independent child but every time the child struggles with something you step in and “help,” then your daily interactions with your child may not help your child to achieve that independence.
In this episode Dr. Joan Grusec of the University of Toronto helps us to think through some of the ways we can shift our daily interactions with our children to ones that bring our relationship with them (rather than our need for compliance) to the fore in a way that supports our longer-term parenting goals.
Coplan, R.J., Hastings, P.D., Lagace,-Seguin, D.G., & Moulton, C.E. (2002). Authoritative and authoritarian mothers’ parenting goals, attributions, and emotions across different childrearing contexts. Parenting: Science and Practice 2(1), 1-26.
Dix, T., Ruble, D.N., & Zambarano, R. (1989). Mothers’ implicit theories of discipline: Child effects, parent effects, and the attribution process. Child Development 60, 1373-1391.
Grusec, J.E. (2002). Parental socialization and children’s acquisition of values. In M.H. Bornstein (Ed.). Handbook of Parenting (2nd Ed)., Volume 5: Practical issues in parenting (p.143-168). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Hastings, P.D., & Grusec, J.E. (1998). Parenting goals as organizers of responses to parent-child disagreement. Developmental Psychology 34(3), 465-479.
Kelly, G. A. (1995). The psychology of personal constructs (2vols.). New York: Norton.
Kuczynski, L. (1984). Socialization goals and mother-child interaction: Strategies for long-term and short-term compliance. Developmental Psychology 20(6), 1061-1073.
Lin, H. (2001). Exploring the associations of momentary parenting goals with micro and macro levels of parenting: Emotions, attributions, actions, and styles. Unpublished Master’s thesis. Stillwater, OK: Oklahoma State University.
Meng, C. (2012). Parenting goals and parenting styles among Taiwanese parents: The moderating role of child temperament. The New School Psychology Bulletin 9(2), 52-67.
Miller, P. J., Wang, S. H., & Cho, G. E. (2002). Self-esteem as folk theory: a comparison of EA and Taiwanese mothers’ beliefs. Parenting: Science and Practice, 2, 209-239.
Jen: [00:22] Hello and welcome to today’s episode of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today we’re going to dig into the literature on something I’ve been doing a bit intuitively for a while now, which is on setting goals for our parenting. Something that Dr Rebecca Babcock Fenerci said during our conversation on Intergenerational Trauma really stuck with me. She said, nobody sets out to be a terrible parent. In other words, all parents are doing the best that they can. Now everyone has parenting goals, whether we fully articulated them or whether they’re circulating somewhere in our subconscious that are formed by relationships we had with our parents and half remembered bits of parenting books and punk post, but what if we could bring all this stuff out of our subconscious and articulate it so that we can work towards achieving these goals? I’m not saying we should set goals like ‘by next month my introverted son is going to love going to parties,’ but if we understand what high level qualities we want our children to have as they grow up, will have a much better chance of actually achieving those goals.
Jen: [02:17] So here with us today to think through all this is Dr Joan Grusec, who’s professor Emerita at the University of Toronto and have spent decades thinking about and researching this topic. Dr. Grusec received her Ba from the University of Toronto and her PHD from Stanford University before she returned to Toronto. She notes on her website that effective parenting does not involve simply the application of specific strategies and techniques or the adoption of specific styles of interaction, but the interaction of parenting strategies and children’s features like temperament, age, sex and mood, as well as something called the domain that the child is operating and that we’re going to discuss a lot more today. So don’t expect to come out of this episode with a tidy template for goal setting, but rather a framework to think about the goals that you have for your child and some ideas on how to apply it. Welcome Dr. Grusec; thanks so much for joining us.
Jen: [03:08] All right. Let’s go back to, well not the beginning here, but kind of a long time ago now. So you and one of your students did a study that has become something of a classic, I think it was published in ’98 in which you looked at parents’ goals when they imagined interactions with a child that could lead to conflict in a short vignette or in a previous experience with their own child. And I think you found that the parent use different strategies to work with their child depending on whether the parents’ center of control was themselves, the child or their relationship with the child. Can you tell us some more about that study?
Dr. Grusec: [03:44] Well, I think what we were trying to do, Paul Hastings and I and in that study was to look at the situation where a child has misbehaved and the parent is responding to that misbehavior, presumably wanting to improve things for the future. But we wanted to emphasize that there isn’t one response that can be made or that all parents make and parents have different things that they want to achieve in this same situation. So some parents or at some time and not at other times. Some parents may just want immediate compliance. They want good behavior, the child is throwing a temper tantrum and they want the child to stop, and those were, what we’d call parent-centered goals. Sometimes parents are interested in teaching a value or in trying to do something that will ensure or make it less likely that the child will misbehave in this way in the future, or sometimes they’re focused on the child’s emotional needs and why is the child so distressed and so upset or what’s bothering my child? Or how does this look for my child’s perspective? How does my child see this situation? Maybe I should take that into account when I’m responding. And the, uh, the last goal that we identified, and this was us asking parents, “what are the goals that you have when you’re interacting with your children in a situation where you want to change their behavior?” So last goal we call relationship-centered. And basically this is just a desire on the part of parents, particularly mothers, I must say mothers reported this more often than fathers did just to make sure that everybody ends up feeling happy and satisfied with the outcome of the interaction.
Jen: [05:47] Okay. And so what strategies did parents use in each of these kinds of situations? How did they differ?
Dr. Grusec: [05:53] Oh, they differ in the, “I just want you to obey me” focus, a parent centered focus. It was mostly some sort of power assertive approach. Taking advantage of greater physical strength to move the child physically out of the situation or just to speak sharply to the child and say, “don’t do that.” So there were more of what we call these power-assertive interventions. In the case of child-centered goals. It was more some power assertion, some setting of rules. This is not the way we behave, but with an explanation or with reasoning or was some attempt to explain to the child why this was not acceptable behavior. In the case of relationship-centered goals that would be more like a taking the child’s perspective, trying to convey to the child that parent understood what the problem was even though the behavior needs to be changed and to see if they could work out some sort of compromise if that seemed appropriate.
Jen: [07:08] Okay. And so it occurs to me that parents’ goals probably shift; the strategies that they use really shift depending on the situation. And so I’m thinking if the child has a tantrum at home, then maybe I can use more child centered in relationship centered strategies like staying calm…
Dr. Grusec: [07:28] Absolutely, yes. In the grocery store it’s more likely to be a parent-centered.
Jen: [07:34] And so, okay. So what I’m curious about then is firstly the effectiveness of these strategies. Is it just as effective to say, you know, to use the power assertion method in the grocery store. Even if you wouldn’t do that if the child was at home. And secondly, you know, is it ever a good thing to use these strategies or should we be using more child centered relationship centered strategies?
Dr. Grusec: [07:58] Well, I think that a combination of child centered and relationship centered strategies are probably best. And when we get to talking later on about domains, I’ll explain why this is the case. Parents who want obedience and who are just focused on “I want my child to salute when I ask for it,” they’ll get obedience when the parents there, but they’re not going to get that same kind of good socially acceptable behavior if there’s no one there to demand that. So although obviously picking a child up and taking them out of the supermarket when they’re behaving badly is probably about the only thing you can do in the final analysis, it’s the other relationship centered and child-centered goals that probably are going to pay off.
Jen: [08:50] Okay. And so that leads me to something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, which is what parents have for parenting their children. I’m thinking both at a high level and at sort of daily interaction levels. So in the US particularly, there’s a high value placed on independence of people of all ages and so that might be a high level parenting goal that a lot of parents have is to raise a child who is independent, but there’s also a really big trend even beyond helicopter parenting to what I think is now known as lawnmower parenting where a parent attempts to mow down any potential obstacles in the child’s way. And it seems to me is there that kind of runs counter to the goal of independence. So I’m curious about what you’ve noticed about the goals that parents state about their child rearing kind of on a day to day level when you know obedience isn’t necessarily thing in all cases and these higher level goals and how parents, interactions with their children affect these goals.
Dr. Grusec: [09:47] Well, I think the problem here is that we as parents often do one thing, manifest one kind of behavior, but we talk in a different way about it. And so we send out confusing signals. So we may value independence. We may talk about independence, we may talk about its importance, but then if we behave in a different way in a way in which we’re encouraging a child to be dependent, then it’s a very confusing situation.
Jen: [10:25] And so I’m curious about the cause and effect direction of this and a fairly recent study that was done in 2012 found that parents in a Taiwanese sample with children who express negative emotions, we’re more likely to be authoritarian, which means to use these power and coercive strategies to achieve compliance. But the study didn’t help us to understand whether having emotional children leads parents to be more coercive or whether coercive parenting leads to the child expressing more emotions. So I’m curious about whether you know of any research that’s been done that can help us to understand this direction of causality.
Dr. Grusec: [11:02] There’s a lot of research. I think the direction of causality is a question that every researcher faces. There are a number of methodological approaches that at least try to deal with the question of is the parent affecting the child or is the child’s behavior driving the parent? So one way of trying at least to get a little bit better, greater insight into this issue is to do what we call longitudinal studies. So we take measures at two points in time. So let’s say you’re interested in the effect of a given parenting behavior on the child. You would collect data about the child’s behavior two time points, one month apart, six months apart, two years apart, whatever, five years apart, you collect that data and you have measured the parent’s behavior at the first time point so that if you find a change in the child’s behavior that is related to, or correlated with a child’s behavior at the first time point, then you have a little bit more information, a little bit more permission for suggesting that there might be a causal relationship.
Dr. Grusec: [12:27] That’s one approach. Another approach is to do an experiment, but this is very hard in the child rearing research area; I can’t tell you to spank your child and tell another parent to speak kindly to their child and see what happens. So not too many experiments can be done, but intervention studies are another way of trying to get at some notion about whether the parenting behavior is having an effect on the child’s behavior so that presumably in an intervention study would have one group that received training in responding to the child’s wishes or whatever the variable was that you thought was important and another group was usually a wait list group because you think your intervention is going to work, so you come back, you measure the two groups at the beginning of one group’s intervention, and then with the waitlist control, there shouldn’t be any change in their behavior in comparison to the group that received the intervention.
Dr. Grusec: [13:40] So that is another way I think that ultimately the answer to your question is that parenting and child rearing is bi-directional. Parents influence children and children influence parents. There’s a recent study by Swedish group, for example, in which they looked at direction of the effect using a longitudinal study with Swedish adolescents and there they found a much greater effect of the adolescents on the parent’s behavior than vice versa. Now this is an older group, adolescents are something different from younger children. Then I think there’s, again, lots of evidence that parents do have an effect on the…parenting has an effect on the behavior of younger children, but as I say, I think it really. It’s both ways. Parents are people too. They have feelings, they respond to reinforcement, so it’s not surprising that they can be affected as well.
Jen: [14:50] Yep. We have goals and failures and these things just like children as well, so staying with the topic of using these different techniques. I think the parents often use these parents-centered techniques when you just kind of want short term compliance, but maybe they use more child in relationship-centered techniques when they want longer term compliance and perhaps even at a later date. And I read one study that tested the techniques that mothers used to get their child to sort out some spoons and forks when there are some attractive toys close by and found that when the mothers tried to instruct their child to comply, the child actually resisted complying and they were more likely to say something like, “do it yourself.” But when the mothers knew they were going to have to leave the child and attended to sort the cutlery, they were more likely to reason with a child which turned out to be more effective. And so the research concluded that sometimes we do choose, we would make a mental choice about how we’ll ask our child to do something, but sometimes we don’t necessarily do that. We don’t go through that process; our automatic pilot just comes on and in those cases we might use more of the parent center techniques which are less effective. And so I’m wondering where does this internal autopilot come from and can we and should we reset it so that our auto pilot is more beneficial for both our child and for us?
Dr. Grusec: [16:07] Well, I think yes, we can reset our autopilots. It’s obviously easier just to tell a child and do something. Reasoning, explanation, even thinking about the relationship, that takes a lot of effort and especially if you’re stressed; you don’t have time or whatever. So the, I suppose the automatic pilot comes from just wanting to get things done and move on. So I think however, the literature, the research certainly shows that investing some time in explanation and in reasoning and in taking the child’s perspective pays off. Certainly what we know is that parents who rely a lot on power assertion, that is who don’t reason who simply say this is okay the way you do it. They get obedience when they’re around, but they don’t (as in the case of this study, for example), they don’t get much obedience when they’re not around.
Jen: [17:16] Yeah, and I think there’s also parents will tend to use more controlling techniques when they think that the child intended to do some harm rather than when the harm couldn’t have been foreseen or managed by the child. But I think that a lot of parents and maybe even researchers hold expectations of the child that aren’t necessarily developmentally appropriate. I was looking at one study where the researchers asked parents in a vignette, how they would discipline a child who ate the cupcakes that he knew were intended for a party, and my first thought was why you leave a child’s favorite dessert out unattended where they could be tempted to eat them. And so I’m thinking, you know, sometimes we see a behavior in our child and we think, oh, the child can do this. No, we expect them to do it all the time when in fact their ability to do it may be coming and going; they’re still mastering the issue and I think if we just lowered our expectations of the level of self control that children should have, that we think they should have the, the, you know, the amount of work they should do around the house and that kind of thing that we wouldn’t see as much of this “misbehavior” that we need to sort of “discipline” as it were. Do you see it in the same way?
Dr. Grusec: [18:25] Well, perhaps in a slightly different way. I think that when we try to teach children not to take cupcakes that are sitting out there tempting them, uh, we make sure that the reasons that we give them for that makes sense. The reasons that make sense to an eight year old who should be able to resist temptation, I guess are very different from the reasons we give to a five year old. So we have to be sure that we are being convincing, given the developmental capacities of the child with whom we’re dealing. That’s one thing. Taking the perspective of the child is another really important thing. Takes a little bit of effort. How does this look to my child? So I suppose if you look at your cup cakes, you know your child, you know how much they love cupcakes, you may decide taking the child’s perspective that this is quite an unreasonable thing to expect of them.
Dr. Grusec: [19:31] So you need to know your child. How do you get to know your child? You get to know your job by talking to them, asking them questions. You need to take the perspective of your child so that you can understand how they’re thinking and feeling at a given time. You need to make sure that your reasoning and your explanations make sense; they’re age appropriate sex, appropriate that there act appropriately. Les, what’s the good reason for not eating the cupcakes? Because I spent a lot of time baking them and we need to keep them for company and maybe you can have one with the company. So I think you don’t give up depending on how important it is, but I think there are a number of techniques that you can use in order to find out whether or not this is an appropriate thing for you to be asking.
Jen: [20:23] So that reminds me that something that one of my favorite authors is Alfie Kohn has said which is attribute the best possible motivation consistent with the behavior. So it seems as though we could think of our child is being “willfully naughty” and deliberately eating a cupcake that they knew they shouldn’t have or we could see it as they just don’t have the self control yet. Even if I told her don’t eat the cupcakes, she can’t physically mentally resist the urge to take the cupcake and eat it. So do you see it in the same way?
Dr. Grusec: [20:55] So I think I see it a bit differently. And that is when you have a child who is misbehaving, not doing something that’s socially acceptable, then you explain to them why they need to behave in an a different sort of way. You don’t keep on explaining. I mean, you have to at some point know that the child understands what it is they’re supposed to do and then you don’t just keep on reasoning. Then you start to set rules and rules have consequences, and you know why it is that you’re not supposed to eat cupcakes or you’re not supposed to hit your brother or your supposed to share your toys. Then once you are sure of the child’s knowledge, that is then the time when you start to impose consequences for their behavior; their actions.
Jen: [21:58] Okay. Alright, so I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about something that I know you’ve been working on a lot lately. One of the key concepts that I got out of reading your research on how we support children in achieving these socialization goals is the idea of the domain approach and the parents’ responses need to appropriately match the domain the child is operating in. Can you tell us some more about that please?
Dr. Grusec: [22:22] Yes, I will. The domain of socialization approach that I’ve been writing about lately really emerges from the fact that there seem to be so many disparate approaches to advice about child rearing. I mean, it’s very confusing. One person will tell you to do this and another person will tell you to do that and no wonder parents tear their hair out. This is an attempt to say that there are different ways of getting children to learn social values and to behave in accord with those social values and depending on the domain or the situation in which the child is operating, this requires a different kind of parenting intervention to achieve the same outcome, which is is acceptance of the value. So my coauthors and I talk about five different domains which require five different kinds of interaction with a child.
Dr. Grusec: [23:31] The first is the protection domain. This is really kind of a basic, fundamental parent child interaction with a child feels distressed or upset or unsafe than the appropriate intervention there is for the parent to comfort the child to protect the child. What happens is that eventually the child has to learn how to comfort themselves, and they do that by observing the behavior that the parent uses and the parent may make suggestions for how they can comfort themselves. They then become able to cope, they develop empathy or the ability to experience the distress of others and to behave in a pro-social positive way. So it’s in the protection domain. Then the children also come to trust that their parents have their best interests in mind. These are the people who look after me – these are the people, this is when parents do do it -these are the people who comfort me, and so I trust them. And when they asked me to do something, I will.
Jen: [24:48] It sounds a lot like attachment theory.
Dr. Grusec: [24:48] It is that; it’s straight attachment theory. So that’s one theory. I guess what the domain approach does is not brings it in along with other theories. So a second one is, and what I consider to be sort of the basis of the parent child relationship. The second domain is reciprocity, which is a really interesting one. This is what happens when a child asks or makes a reasonable reasonable request of the parent. Okay? And I understand, I underline reasonable when this happens and when parent and child are in this kind of parent is accommodating, the child becomes more accommodating. It’s just the basic feature of human behavior that we reciprocate. And so again, there’s considerable evidence that when parents comply with children’s reasonable requests, children are more inclined to comply with their parents’, presumably reasonable requests.
Dr. Grusec: [25:59] And so you get this exchange going. Eleanor Maccoby, who was a developmental psychologist, you really first started talking about this reciprocal relationship with respect to compliance in the in the early eighties, she likened it to putting money in the bank. So if you build up this relationship of being compliant, wanting to play silly games with your child? Okay, so mom, let’s sit down and watch this – what to the child is a really interesting video – but what is to the parent is a totally boring video, but being able to comply with this reasonable request makes it more likely that in the future when the parent says, will you start sharing your toys with your sister, more likely that you’ll get what’s known as willing compliance. It’s not forced. It’s not because the parent is being parent-centered and standing there and saying, do this. It’s because they’re into an exchange relationship.
Jen: [27:09] Yeah. I think I remember a study that Maccoby did in the early eighties about she asked parents to sit with their child and basically do what the child asked related to play and just engage in child-directed play and the children who did that with more likely to clean up when the parent asked them to clean up.
Dr. Grusec: [27:28] Exactly. Yeah, so the first mention.
Dr. Grusec: [27:33] Yeah. I mean this happens a lot obviously in the place situation and it’s difficult. It’s a lot easier, I think, to comfort a child who’s in distress than it is to do something really boring like, you know, how many times do I have to play with this cash register; this is a boring activity, but you’ve got to remember that it’s an activity that really pays off in the future. But there are many studies now that also indicate that just when there’s a back and forth, when you observe parents and children interacting and they’re laughing, there’s positive effect when they’re taking part together in routines that they’re in sync essentially, and when you’re in sync, then that means if I asked you to do something that you won’t stop to think, oh, I don’t want to do this. I’m being forced to do this is a, well, it’s just, it’s natural. This is the way we operate. So that’s the second domain.
Jen: [28:36] Yeah. And sorry, before we move on, I wonder if we could just detour for a minute into external consequences. What would happen if the parent says clean up your toys or else, what kind of impact does that have on the reciprocity domain?
Dr. Grusec: [28:50] Well, it shouldn’t be necessary; if it is necessary then presumably, there isn’t enough money in the bank. Okay. I thought the, you know, the other side of that question is if your child reciprocates and you say, Oh, thank you, that was fabulous. I really appreciate it. That that may be harmful too because you’re, you’re moving it from some kind of intrinsically motivated action to an externally motivated action and once to do that, you break down the, this whole exchange relationship.
Dr. Grusec: [29:29] Well, I guess so sometimes rewards work and often they, uh, they don’t work.
Jen: [29:36] Yeah. Yeah. We’ve definitely looked at a lot of research on that. I interrupted you. You were going onto controlling.
Dr. Grusec: [29:42] I think so, but I see protection and reciprocity is sort of the base relationship domains. Then we come into the domain that everybody is most seems to be most interested in and that’s the control domain. What happens when your child does something bad, and this is where you get into supporting the child’s autonomy, not making them feel forced to do things, providing reasons, making sure that what you’re doing is also the reasons that you are offering are appropriate to the child’s particular misdeed. There’s a whole raft. Don’t be too strict, don’t be too harsh. Make sure though that the contingencies there clear so there are certain ways of dealing with the control domain. When the child has misbehaved that work better than other ways. Then there are two other domains which I think have a lot of advantages. We don’t know as much about them because everybody’s really control is pressing.
Dr. Grusec: [30:54] You’ve got to do something about your child’s misdeeds. That’s why you are really interested in the kinds of directives and suggestions that people make. The other two domains which I call guided learning and group participation, so what do they mean? Well, the guided learning is just talking to your child. Taking advantage of opportunities that might exist to talk about that is – you see someone, someone homeless, person lying in the doorway and your child says, why is he lying in the doorway? This provides an opportunity to start to talk about people who are less fortunate and what can be done for those less fortunate people. Reading stories in which you talk about people’s emotions are another example of how guided learning can help children learn values. The important thing about guided learning is it has to be scaffolded to the child’s ability. So this comes right back to the basic issue which always has to do with does the child see the value is intrinsically motivated?
Dr. Grusec: [32:12] If it’s scaffolded, if it if the child or arrives at a certain point of view through careful conversation that meets the child’s current way of thinking, then the child is going to come to accept the outcome as his or her own. So I think guided learning takes effort just like reciprocity takes more effort. But again, the research suggests that it pays off; that telling stories to children that talking with them about these issues and trying to guide the conversation in a way that opens up new ways of thinking that this is a very useful procedure for teaching values to children. The last, the group participation domain is observational learning, watching what other people are doing, watching what your parents do, playing video games, watching violent television, not hanging out with the best exemplars of positive values, so observing and then participating so we know there’s a lot of work, for example that suggests that adolescents or young children who are working together who are volunteering, for example, who are with a group of people engaging in some sort of positive interaction that this is another very effective way to learn values, so those are the five domains.
Dr. Grusec: [34:00] Three of them have to do with specific learning and two them have to do more with the kind of basic relationship between parent and child and as I said at the beginning, the domain in which the child is operating. Is the child upset as the child asked for a reasonable favor, is a child misbehaving? Has an opportunity just presented itself for some exchange? Reminiscence is another example of guided learning, talking about things that happened a couple of weeks ago. You’re no longer in the discipline or the control domain, but you’re in a situation that helps you to talk with your child about what might have been done differently. So this is a way I think that organizes a very large and diffuse literature and sometimes a very confusing literature and helps to say, you know, where does the attachment fit in? Where does coercion theory, reinforcement theory work in behavior modification? Where does modeling come in and it kind of draws them altogether?
Jen: [35:19] Yeah, and so I think one of your key points was the parents’ responses need to appropriately match the domain, the child’s upbringing. Can you help us to understand what does that actually mean?
Dr. Grusec: [35:29] Well, it means that you don’t comfort a child if they’re in the control domain. That means that if they’re in a situation where they’re being exposed to a variety of different kinds of models, that you want to choose the situation more carefully for them. So you might. I mean, parents try to live in neighborhoods where they feel their children will go to schools where they will see people engaging in the kinds of actions that the parents value. If you’re in the reciprocity domain, then you don’t march into the control domain or you don’t explain why you can’t be bothered or don’t feel like going along with the child’s requests. So it’s matching up what’s appropriate in each domain.
Jen: [36:27] And we hypothesize it leads to reduce stress in parenting because the matching of the child’s state and the parents state leads to more effective parenting.
Dr. Grusec: [36:38] It certainly it should lead to more effective parenting. And I think what this does is, is to underline the importance of other things other than discipline and control. So, and to say that there’s also more than just attachment and attachment and control or have been the two major areas I guess, that researchers have been involved in and that parents hear about. But there are these other ways of helping children learn values that probably are much more positive in the long run.
Jen: [37:23] Yeah. And so that actually leads me into thinking about how our culture influences the values that we want to imbue in our children. And so I’m thinking specifically of the highly individualized nature of American culture as well as what I perceive as an unfortunate focus on fitness and beauty for girls and stoicism and manliness for boys. And I’m curious as to your thoughts on how reasonable do you think it is to instill values in our children that run counter to their predominant messages that our culture sends?
Dr. Grusec: [37:57] Well, I think there are universal values, so essentially all cultures have the same values, more or less others. A Israeli psychologist, Shalom Schwartz who’s studied value hierarchies in 50, 60, 80 different countries and always finds essentially the same thing. And that is that not harming others or helping others are the most important values. Again, from an evolutionary perspective, that makes good sense. We survive if we don’t get into altercations with other people; we survive if we assist other people when they need help because then they’re obviously going to reciprocate. Now I know we don’t always do well in these areas, but these ultimately are the most important – endorsed as the most important values, even if they’re not always manifested in people’s behavior. The least important values are those that have to do with power and achievement and I guess beauty, to use your example, absolutely, and the people, because these values depend on extrinsic motivation.
Dr. Grusec: [39:39] Yes, that’s right. Whereas concern for others not harming others, they come from inside. They don’t depend on other people rewarding you for them. So certainly this is Schwartz’s argument about why they’re called benevolence and universalism, a fancy terminology, but uh, they really encompass concern for others which pays off in the long run. People who value universalism and benevolence for example, are happier. There’s studies indicating that they’re happier than people who value power and achievement. It’s like, the person who owns who is worth hundreds of billions of dollars is not much happier because he just made another few billion. Whereas feeling that you’ve made a difference or that you’ve helped somebody or that you’ve improved the world in some way does give you a feeling of internal satisfaction and the data suggests that is the case.
Jen: [40:56] Yeah, I agree with that point, but what I’m thinking of is, you know, we tell our children, you need to do well in school. You need to get A’s in school and the reason you do that is so that you can go to college and the reason you need to do that is so you can get a good job and you can own a lot of money and you can buy a house and a car and…
Dr. Grusec: [41:14] …and people can say or are to an impressive person if it’s good to go to school and to achieve and to go to college so you can get a job that will make you feel fulfilled, not that will get you lots of money, but that will make you fulfilled and doing what you want to do. Then this is going to be a much happier child and the child is told we have to get you into the best daycare because that’s the only way you’re going to get into a good school, which will then get you into an Ivy League university, which will then help you become famous and rich. It’s not not as good. They’re not as happy.
Jen: [41:56] Yeah, so as we kind of wrap up here, I’m thinking you know how much of it is important that our children figure this stuff out for themselves, so the behaviorists would say we should reward the behavior that we want and punish the behavior. We don’t call it done, but the self-determination theorists argue that we should, I’m going to quote, “minimize the child’s perception of external control. So it was to promote the child’s feelings that they’re making a choice for themselves,” but people like Alfie Kohn here, we’ve mentioned already among others, have argued for the value of allowing the child to not just perceived that they aren’t being externally controlled, but to actually develop these values for themselves through parents offering opportunities to care for others and emphasizing perspective. Taking and I think that this potentially does differ by culture, maybe in collectivist cultures where there’s less emphasis on deciding what values you want to follow because you just follow the values of the broader culture uses, but I’m curious about your thoughts on what seems to me to be kind of a sliding scale where you know on one far end we just tell children what to think and then moving over towards the middle of we try and get them to think it but make them think it was their idea and then over on the other side, supporting them and developing these ideas for themselves.
Jen: [43:10] What do you think is a productive way to move forward on that?
Dr. Grusec: [43:13] Well, this is why I like the guided learning and the group participation domains so much. In the guided learning – remember I said that it has to be scaffolded, the discussion? It has to be a discussion with, not an information session and so what happens is in this case is that eventually the child reaches the point where they’ve internalized the value. They’ve taken it over, they’ve constructed it. The difference between transmitting values and children constructing them, so a parent has helped the child to construct a particular value and in that case, I think this is at the end of of your continuum; the child has really taken over and this value as their own. They behave in the cord with that valley because that is. They see that as the right and proper way to do things. The group participation domain is again, you see somebody doing something, then you have to sit down and figure out why was that a good thing or a bad thing to do and so you don’t have a parent telling you you mustn’t do that because instead do you have the child figuring out what’s going on and why this might be desirable.
Dr. Grusec: [44:43] So I think those two domains particularly are useful for leading to willing compliance; to internalization or taking over of the value is your own in the control domain and it’s a bit trickier because it’s sometimes difficult to provide enough scaffolding or enough autonomy support. This is what the some people talk about is not forcing children to do things, but to give them choice, for example, to take their perspective so that you can understand how you should handle the situation so they don’t feel forced. So in the control domain you can get internalization as well. So I absolutely agree that the end of it is the child thinking, “I’m doing this not to please mother or to avoid my father’s wrath or to get paid, or to get people saying how wonderful I am; I’m doing it because it’s right,” and that’s I think the goal with respect to socialization and taking over the values of our culture.
Dr. Grusec: [46:10] And you mentioned something about culture and saying you thought it was less important as a function of culture. I don’t think even in more so called collectivist cultures. People still value still take over values as their own. It may be that the value is that the family group is really important and that we have to respect our elders and that’s a little different from the emphasis in our culture on autonomy, but I think still those particular values are arrived at through a process of construction, so I don’t think these notions are just specific to our Western way of thinking.
Jen: [47:02] Good to know that we’re not always WEIRD, (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic).
Jen: [47:10] Well thank you so much for helping us think through this. I know it’s a bit of a tricky topic to kind of get one’s head around or at least it was for me when I was thinking through these issues, so I appreciate your willingness to let us poke at it.