Parenting Styles and Child Physical Activity
Arkansas State University
The problem of childhood obesity is a growing and alarming one in modern societies, particularly in developed countries such as the United States. Pediatricians, psychologists, social workers and educators are endeavoring to find effective ways to combat this public health crisis and promote a healthy society now and in future years. One problem researchers have been investigating is the relationship between parenting styles and levels of both physical activity and sedentary screen time in children. The goal of this query is to determine more effective methods of intervention to encourage parents to promote healthy habits in children, tailoring interventions to the different “kinds” of parents that exist in our society. Developmental psychologists characterize parenting styles as belonging to one of four categories: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, or uninvolved/neglectful. Authoritarian parents exhibit high levels of behavioral control over their children, but low levels of warmth and support. They expect children to follow commands without question, and if a child dares to ask “Why,” the response is likely to be “because I said so!” Authoritative parents combine high levels of control with high levels of warmth. Although they lay down rules that they expect children to follow, they are open to discussion and to explaining to the child their reasoning for the rules. Permissive parents exhibit high levels of warmth but low levels of control. They allow most behaviors and do not administer much punishment. Neglectful parents exhibit neither warmth nor control over children’s behaviors. These parents may provide for a child’s physical needs but are generally uninvolved in their child’s lives and have little emotional connection with the child. Researchers sought to determine to what extent different parenting styles and specific practices were associated with different levels of physical activity in children.
In terms of my own personal experience, I would say that the way I was parented did have an effect on my physical activity levels today, but not an extremely strong effect. I would say my mom’s parenting style was somewhere between authoritarian and authoritative. She was very loving and as involved as a single mom could be, but she did not always explain why she laid down behavioral expectations. I think her forcing me to go to the gym with my sister when I was a teenager, although kindly meant, had a negative effect on my exercise habits because I was not given a choice. I think forcing children to do things, although sometimes unavoidable, decreases the child’s desire to do them and decreases the desire to continue in the future. In terms of specific practices, I was verbally encouraged to exercise as a child, but my mom was often too tired after work to do things like take me on bike rides. Had she been able to engage in physical activity with me by going walking together or going to the park earlier in my childhood, I might be more active today. Ultimately, my low levels of physical activity are not her “fault,” because she encourages me to exercise even now that I am an adult. I just don’t enjoy physical activity very much.
According to my research, general parenting styles like “authoritarian” or “permissive” are not strongly associated with children’s levels of activity (Langer et al. 2014). Neglectful parenting is more strongly associated with increased “screen time,” defined as watching TV or using an electronic device for nonacademic purposes, while the opposite is true for authoritative parenting (Geest et al. 2017). Authoritarian and permissive parenting are also associated with increased screen time (Langer et al. 2014). What was connected to child activity levels was specific parenting practices encouraging physical activity (PA), as opposed to broader parenting styles. The strongest relationship between parental support and PA was found in parents who were more permissive than the “average” parent (Langer et al. 2014). My research does not support the notion that children raised by permissive or neglectful parents are less active than children raised by authoritarian or authoritative parents.
The two articles I used are relevant to the topic of parenting and child exercise because they are both based on studies that examined the relationship between parenting styles and child PA. The first article, published by Geest et al. in 2017 examined this relationship using cross-sectional data from Dutch parents of children aged 8-11. The data was collected in an online survey carried out by a public health organization in the Netherlands. This study found no association between parenting styles and child PA but did find that authoritative parenting was associated with lower levels of screen time while uninvolved parenting was associated with higher levels. The second article, published by Langer et al. in 2014 was based on a similar study conducted in the United States. The Langer study involved overweight or at-risk for overweight children around the age of 7 and their parents. Researchers collected data similar to the data collected in the Netherlands. However, the Langer study used a more objective measure of children’s activity in that the children were asked to wear accelerometers to record their levels of PA. Both studies found that broad parenting styles do not have much effect on children’s PA levels, but that parental support for PA was associated with an increase in exercise.
Geest, K. E., Mérelle, S. Y., Rodenburg, G., Mheen, D. V., ; Renders, C. M. (2017). Cross-sectional associations between maternal parenting styles, physical activity and screen sedentary time in children. BMC Public Health,17(1). doi:10.1186/s12889-017-4784-8
Langer, S. L., Crain, A. L., Senso, M. M., Levy, R. L., ; Sherwood, N. E. (2014). Predicting Child Physical Activity and Screen Time: Parental Support for Physical Activity and General Parenting Styles. Journal of Pediatric Psychology,39(6), 633-642. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jsu021
Parenting Styles and Child Physical Activity