Not Born To Be Wild: The impact of parenting style on honesty

I grew up in a rather strict household. I was grounded pretty often, not because I was a trouble-maker, but because I didn’t live up to some pretty lofty expectations. I wasn’t allowed to question rules, or pretty much speak up at all. Everything I said or did was minutely scrutinized. So how did I turn out? I am pretty resilient, and determined to the point of stubbornness. I’m also an extreme perfectionist who’s never happy with achievement or with myself. I follow rules because it’s been pretty much drilled in my head to do so, but I’ve got to tell you, I sometimes feel suffocated and restricted by my overdeveloped superego. Last week I found five dollars on the ground and felt so much guilt about the idea of keeping it that I almost put it back. Who does that?!

I’m often curious about how I would have turned out had I been allowed a little more freedom. What would my personality have been like? What field would I have pursued? I don’t know why, but for some reason, I picture myself with daisies in my long-flowing hair, wearing printed summer dresses and writing novels somewhere on a ranch.

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My point is, how we were raised defines, at least to some extent, the scope with which we view values, rules, and morals, as well as how we behave. And when I looked at data from our Integrity and Work Ethics Test, I discovered that a parenting style that is supportive yet firm is more likely to instill good values in children – more so than overly strict, overly permissive, or neglectful parenting. So yeah, strict parenting doesn’t necessarily guarantee good behavior.

Here are the four most commonly known parenting styles, and how they relate to honesty:

Authoritarian

What the style entails: Lots of strict rules and tough expectations, with very little freedom, warmth, and support.

How it impacts honesty and integrity as a child grows up: Children of Authoritarian parents are raised to follow rules without complaint. As adults, they may replace the child/parent dynamic with the employee/boss dynamic, and thus are less likely to break rules due to a fear of authority. They generally have a strong sense of right and wrong, but there are some exceptions. When asked “Under which circumstances is employee theft OK?” People who had Authoritarian parents were more likely to rationalize dishonest acts if the perpetrator was generally a loyal and honest person. It almost seems like some Authoritarian children carry with them a strong sense of injustice from their childhood, when they’re own good behavior was unlikely to be rewarded.

Our study stats:

  • 35% said that an employee who commits a theft should be forgiven if he/she puts in a lot of overtime and asks for little in return.
  • 30% said that the employee should be forgiven if he/she has been in the company for more than 10 years.
  • 35% said that the employee should be forgiven if he/she has a clean record.

Our study also reveals that compared to the other groups, Authoritarian children have a fairly cynical view of humanity, and believe that given the chance, most employees would misbehave. For example:

  • 32% believe that the majority of employees would leave work early if they were sure their boss wouldn’t find out.
  • 26% believe that the majority of employees take unauthorized breaks.
  • 20% believe that the majority of employees intentionally do poor quality work so that they can finish a task sooner.

Permissive

What the style entails: Lots of freedom, leniency, warmth, and support but few (if any) rules, boundaries, and expectations.

How it impacts honesty and integrity as a child grows up: Children of Permissive parents didn’t grow up with many rules, which means that some of them never developed a solid distinction between right and wrong. Many struggle to deal with authority because they expect to get away with a lot of their behaviors. Some have a strong sense of entitlement, and if they want something, they often just take it.

Our study stats: Children of Permissive parents were more likely than any other group to rationalize dishonest behavior. For example, if an employee commits an act of theft, this group believes that the act is perfectly justifiable if the employee:

  • Doesn’t have a good salary (21%)
  • Hasn’t had a raise in over 5 years (19%)
  • Regularly puts in overtime and asks for little in return (38%)
  • Is under stress (19%)
  • Is having problems at home (24%)
  • Is having financial difficulties (33%)
  • Has a clean record (37%)

In addition, 50% of children of Permissive parents believe that what’s right and wrong depends on the circumstances, compared to 36% of the Authoritarian group, 37% of the Authoritative group, and 45% of the Neglected group.

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Neglectful/Uninvolved

What the style entails: Neglectful parents are less likely to be involved in their child’s life. They may not always be around, and when they are they are unlikely to set very many rules and boundaries. They also offer little in the way of support, encouragement, praise, and love.

How it impacts honesty and integrity as a child grows up: For some children of Neglectful parents, their frame of reference for rules is severely skewed. Teachers and authority figures are more likely to have difficulty with neglected children, even as adults. Without rules and boundaries, children of Neglectful parents struggle to draw the line between right and wrong.

Study stats: Children of Neglectful parents were more likely than any other group to consider certain dishonest acts acceptable. For example:

  • 15% think it’s OK to keep extra change if a cashier makes a mistake.
  • 20% think it’s acceptable for a father to tell a child to lie about his/her age in order to get into a movie for free.
  • 35% believe it’s fine for a parent to allow a child to take packets of condiments from a restaurant.
  • 53% have no issue with jaywalking or crossing when a light is red.

Not surprisingly their unstable upbringing has also caused some neglected children to develop a cynical view of morality. For example:

  • 10% believe that rules are made to be broken
  • 25% believe that in order to succeed in business, you need to be deceitful and underhanded.
  • 50% believe that it doesn’t take much to turn an honest person into a criminal.

Authoritative

What the style entails: Lots of rules and boundaries, but with some degree of freedom and flexibility. Parents are strict but also warm and supportive.

How it impacts honesty and integrity as a child grows up: Authoritative parents instill the value of honesty in their children at an early age. They are more likely to openly discuss rules as well as why they’re in place and why there are consequences to breaking them. While they may offer some leniency when it comes to rules and may even give their child the benefit of the doubt, they will also not hesitate to enforce a rule when necessary.

Based on our research, although children of authoritative parents are not immune to the temptation of theft, lying, or rule-breaking (14% believe it’s OK to buy pirated copies of movies or steal someone’s WiFi) they are less likely than children of other parenting styles to engage in dishonest behavior.

A parent’s approach to rules and rule-breaking and mischievous behavior in general can have a significant impact on a child’s behavior as an adult. However, this isn’t to say that children of authoritarian, permissive or neglectful parents are destined to go rogue. Many grow up to be law-abiding citizens. Children of neglectful parents, for example, may use their difficult childhood as inspiration to thrive, make something of themselves, and not allow their past to hold them back. That being said, there are more advantages to rearing children in an environment that offers a well-balanced blend of love and discipline. Children of authoritative parents are more likely to be confident, to perform well in school, to be emotionally and socially well-adjusted, and to be self-reliant. Based on our study, they are also more likely to develop a strong sense of integrity that they carry into adulthood, and probably pass on to their own children as well.

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Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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