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GRCC’s Psychology Speaker Series features a professor who explores how much parents matter


By Lauren Winther

About 85 people turned out for today’s Psychology Speaker Series to hear Kate Byerwalter’s, a Psychology Professor at Grand Rapids Community College, give a presentation entitled, Do Parents Make a Difference? An Exploration in Raising a Child.

Byerwalter’s presentation began with the discussion on if parents matter, and showed different theories given for development.

“A woman named Judith Harris asked this question in her book, ‘The Nurture Assumption.’ She argued that peers shaped development more than parents do,” Byerwalter said.

“Psychologists Sandra Scar and David Rowe argued that parents’ influence is primary in terms of genetic development endowment passed on to the child,” she said. “As long as the home environment is good enough, that is providing for basic needs and not harming a child in any way, how a child turns out is really a result of his or her genetic propensities, not specific behaviors or decisions of the parent.”

She also described how research shows that siblings can affect a child’s development.

“Siblings help define who we are, how we react to others, and who we become,” Byerwalter said.

Photo by Lauren Winther
Kate Byerwalter

Next, Byerwalter described the different types of parenting styles and gave modern examples of each kind of parent, such as Mr. Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, Red Forman from “That 70’s Show”, and Danny Tanner from “Full House”.

There are three styles she discussed, permissive style, authoritarian style, and authoritative style, each parenting style ultimately has an outcome that affects the child as he or she develops.

The permissive parenting style is described as having very few demands of the child and rarely discipline. Due to permissive parents, possible outcomes for a child are low levels of self-reliance, exploration, and self control.

The authoritarian parenting style is described as having strict rules, with no explanation of the rules, and the breaking of the rules ends in punishment. The outcome for children with authoritarian parents is being discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful.

The third parenting style is authoritative, which is described as, parents who establish rules and boundaries but are willing to listen to their children and answer their questions. This type of parenting style is favored and studies have shown a link of positive outcomes.

There are also other influences that can affect parenting, such as each parent having a different style, and other factors in raising children, such as family structure, gender, birth order, temperament and more.

The presentation also went on to describe how different cultures affect parenting.

Evidence also shows that different parenting styles don’t necessarily apply in some ethnic groups.

Byerwalter went on to describe how Latino, Spaniard, Asian Americans, and African Americans all have different styles of parenting.

“Sixty-one percent of Latino parents, that were studied, adopted what the researchers called, a protective parenting style,” said Byerwalter. “A study in Spain found that permissive parenting was associated with positive academic achievement for the children.”

Studies of Asian American parenting have shown a more authoritarian parenting style that stems from positive academic achievement.

“Studies among lower income African American populations found that authoritarian style predicted academic success among children and teens,” said Byerwalter. “Authors of these studies have suggested that in some neighborhoods being strict is vital and strictness is seen as a sign of love.”

However, during a 2002 study, it was found that middle class African American mothers used the authoritative style of parenting with very little physical punishment.

Byerwalter finished her presentation up by discussing stimulation in children and how it is needed at an early age.

She also discussed a variety of things a parent can do to get the right stimulation, such as talking to a child, reading, creating with your child, and enjoying music and art together. The focal point of these activities is to have fun and not pressure the child into learning.

Byerwalter’s presentation on parenting received a lot of positive feedback from students.

“I really enjoyed how she made her presentation interactive and got the audience involved,” said Allison Peters, 19, a GRCC student who was attending the event.

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