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Pike, Brigid (2011) Drug prevention in the family. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 38, Summer 2011, pp. 6-7.

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Family policy development, including supports for family-based drug prevention, could benefit from a child-centred ethos that takes account of the developmental needs and rights of individual children. Children’s views on what constitutes safe and effective discipline could be incorporated into existing parenting programmes that seek to provide support for parents. These are just some of the conclusions of a recently published study of Irish children’s perspectives on parenting styles and discipline.1 

The overall aim of this study was to explore the views of children and young people, including their perceptions of the effects of different parenting styles and disciplinary strategies on their lives. A qualitative approach was used, involving focus group interviews with children and young people aged between 6 and 17 years. The study was carried out jointly by the School of Psychology and the Children’s Research Centre, Trinity College, Dublin, and the Centre for Social and Educational Research in the Dublin Institute of Technology, and was commissioned by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
Parenting styles
Children’s descriptions of what parents do in a family revealed a variety of parental roles, from providing sustenance, protection and support, to monitoring and regulating, guiding and teaching, to facilitating children’s independence and autonomy. The authors reported that parental control was seen as necessary and good, and particularly important to prevent children from engaging in risk behaviour and to keep them safe, for example to ensure they were not ‘going out drinking or doing drugs’, as one boy in 1st year said.
Parent and child roles were perceived to change over time, with dependence on parents decreasing as children grew older. Given adolescents’ need for autonomy and independence, the authors observed that parenting at this stage brought novel challenges for regulation and control of behaviour at a time when the likelihood of risk-taking behaviour may be heightened.
Parental control
The research revealed that Irish parents are important figures of authority and control for their children. Key aspects of this role were perceived to be monitoring and checking children’s activities and whereabouts, enforcing limits and boundaries, and disciplining children. Parental monitoring was reportedly facilitated largely through talking, asking questions and via mobile phones. Parents were also perceived as ‘all-knowing’ and attentive to familiar and unfamiliar patterns of behaviour.
Older children emphasised the need for parents to negotiate rules and regulations with their adolescents, rather than imposing restrictions upon them as might be done with younger children, and the need to establish trust, which was seen as a prerequisite to effective monitoring and developing children’s sense of responsibility. A boy in Transition Year expressed it thus: ‘Kids haveto be trusted, you know. You read sometimes about home drug-testing and things like that and youthink, well it’s obviously going to be something wrong with the family dynamic here if the parentsare going behind their kid’s back to do something like that. Trust your kids … you know, give themresponsibility.’ (p. 44)
Discipline strategies identified by the children were classified by the researchers into three categories:
o   power-assertive responses, including the removal of privileges, time-out, grounding, being allocated extra chores or physical punishment;
o   inductive responses, involving communication about behaviour and its consequences, and reinforcement of positive behaviour; and
o   love withdrawal, where parents express their disappointment in their children with the intention of inducing feelings of guilt and regret for misbehaviour.
Children’s perspectives on the rationale for physical punishment were context-dependent, considering in particular the age of the child, frequency and intensity of the administration of the physical punishment and the severity of the misdeed that elicited such a response.  Physical punishment was deemed both more effective and more acceptable when used with younger children, and then should involve only a light slap or tap; the children were unanimous in their opposition to frequent or severe physical punishment.
The researchers noted that a key argument in favour of physical punishment centred on its effectiveness in curbing or preventing health-risk behaviours. Some children in the older age groups endorsed parental use of physical punishment in contextswhere children’s safety and health was at risk, such as smoking and drug-related activities.  
1.Nixon E and Halpenny AM (2010) Children’s perspectives on parenting styles and discipline: a developmental approach. Dublin: Stationery Office.

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