Should Parents Be Strict or Lenient?

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Everyone knows Regina George’s mom from the movie “Mean Girls.” She has the iconic line, “I’m not like a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.”

Her “cool mom” nature doesn’t work out so well in the film, but what about real life? Should a parent be strict or lenient?

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Should Parents Be Strict or Lenient?

It’s about finding the right balance. If you’re too strict and rigid, it’s bad. If you’re too lenient with no rules, it’s also bad. You have to find your own style and tailor that to each kid because every kid is different and will require different boundaries.

Strict Parenting, Lenient Parenting and the Importance of Balance

I grew up in a somewhat unique situation. My parents were extremely strict until they weren’t. As a young person, I was not allowed to visit friends’ homes if my parents weren’t with me.

I couldn’t go to slumber parties or have sleepovers of any kind. Extra-curricular activities were strictly forbidden. The music we listened to was likewise ruled with an iron fist.

Around the time I turned 15, my parents changed. They went from one extreme to the other. They didn’t care where I went or what I did as long as they didn’t have to be involved. School events were suddenly fine if I could find my own ride.

I had no curfew and no rules. The closest they came to enforcing any of their previous demands was asking me to be quiet whenever I made it home so that I wouldn’t wake them.

You might be wondering what caused the big change, but it’s actually pretty simple. I’m the youngest in a large family by a fairly wide margin. Being a “surprise” baby, my parents were older when I was a teen and were pretty much done with the whole parenting gig. I went from being a prisoner in my home to basically raising myself.

I vowed that when I had children, I would find balance. Rules are important, but so is empathy. Finding a way to guide children without leading their lives for them is vital.

I err on the side of strict, but I always remember what it felt like to not be in control, and that’s when I reign it in. That balance is delicate but nevertheless very important.

Being Strict Doesn’t Mean No Relationship
There’s a thin line between having strictly enforced rules and being a mean parent. Strict simply means you have clear expectations.

It’s possible to be a strict parent and still have a great relationship with your kids. Just remember, sometimes even strict parents need some flexibility.

Rules Aren’t Made to Be Broken

I do not believe that rules are only meant to be followed when you feel like it. If I have a rule, I have a reason for it, and I stick to it.

My husband and I made a vow that our children wouldn’t be bound to arbitrary rules, nor would they ever be left in the dark about why a rule was in place. My dad’s favorite saying was, “Because I said so.” Those words are not allowed in our home.

For example, no electronics are allowed outside of common areas in the home. This helps to ensure kids are not goofing off when they need to be doing homework and not visiting inappropriate websites, among other things.

We also have a rule that their rooms must be clean before playing video games or going out with friends. These are unflinching rules that my kids accept and respect.

Being strict does not mean being mean. I strictly enforce the house rules, but I don’t have so many that my kids can’t breathe. The kids have plenty of independence and decision-making, but they also abide by the rules that are in place or suffer the consequences.

Punishment Should Fit the Crime

The consequences of a broken rule depend on the severity. My daughter sometimes sneaks her phone into her room when she knows she shouldn’t. The punishment is that she loses her phone privileges for a couple of days.

My son’s refusal to clean his room means he loses gaming time until the room is clean. These aren’t severe punishments, but they are effective.

We had a more serious situation happen over the summer. My son was taking two classes as part of a supplemental summer school to “get ahead.” Though it was his choice, he also made the choice to stop doing his classwork and lie to his father and me about it. Lying, as both of my children know, is unacceptable. When we finally found out about his lie, he lost all privileges until he was completely caught up and had made a formal apology.

Younger children need different types of punishment. A time-out seat is a very effective way to remind children that their behavior is unacceptable. Sometimes, instead of putting the children in time out, I put their favorite toys in the hot seat.

At the end of each time out (I used one minute per age of the child), they needed to tell me exactly what they did wrong and what they should have done instead. If they refused to answer, I would explain it to them, and then the time-out process started over again.

What About Corporal Punishment?
In my house, there is no room for corporal punishment. Spankings have been proven to be ineffective at deterring bad behavior. Scaring kids only serves to scar them.

Not All Kids are the Same

I have different ways of dealing with each of my children. This isn’t because one is a boy and one is a girl, as so many people unfortunately think. It’s because they have very different personality traits.

My son is extremely stubborn, a bit shy, and very cautious. My daughter is empathetic, outgoing, and completely reckless. Giving them the same levels of strictness would be negligent on my part.

My son has always been careful, which means I never had problems with him playing with friends unsupervised. On the other hand, my daughter sees nothing wrong with jumping out of a tree onto a busy street if someone dares her to do so. She thinks it’s unfair that she needs to be watched when her brother didn’t, but she needs that extra care.

I don’t believe in being more strict with one child than another as a general rule. I do believe in understanding your children and how their personalities might dictate the amount of strictness or leniency you give at any given time.

Homework and Extra-curricular Activities

I will never not be strict when it comes to homework. Schoolwork always comes first, no matter what. I follow up with my children’s lessons, make sure they’re caught up, and question any grades that don’t seem appropriate for their levels.

I had gotten sloppy with checking my straight-A son, but his behavior reminded me that I can’t let up if I want to make sure all school work is complete. I don’t think it’s appropriate to expect top grades from a B-student. I do think it’s appropriate to expect those students to do their best, whatever that may be.

The same is true of extra-curricular activities. My daughter is in competitive dance, which means she spends roughly 10 to 15 hours per week, every week, at her dance academy. I personally believe it’s too much, especially for an 11-year-old, but she loves dance and wants to compete.

Therefore, she goes to every dance class and every rehearsal. I also make her practice at home. I am not a dancer. I am not reliving my glory days through her. I simply know that her academy expects the best, and that’s what she will give them.

The same is true for any other extra-curricular activities. My husband and I strictly enforce the idea that they must stick to any commitment they make.

For instance, my son realized he hated soccer about two weeks into a three-month commitment. We told him he had to stick it out, but he would never have to do it again. He wasn’t happy with it, but I feel he learned a valuable lesson.

Related: Should Parents Make Their Kids Study?

Being the “Cool” Parent

I consider myself pretty strict, but I also consider myself to be pretty fun. I spend time with my kids, play with them, make sure they’re happy, and do as many special things for them as I can.

I learned magic tricks to perform for my daughter’s friends. I make funny t-shirts and masks that my son can show off at school. When we spend time together, we genuinely have fun together.

None of that precludes the need for rules, guidelines, and, when needed, punishments. It is very possible to be a cool parent who is also strict. In my mind, this is the best way to raise emotionally healthy children.

Find Your Right Balance

This is the scene from Mean Girls that I mentioned above.

Being strict gives kids safety and security, but a strict parent doesn’t have to be mean. What do you think? Should parents be strict or lenient with their children? Give us your take in the comments!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Being strict (or not lenient) doesn’t mean you’re not kind. It just means you have clear expectations of what you want. You just need to make sure you don’t have arbitrary rules or so many rules that it would be unreasonable for a kid to follow them.

Parents should strive to find a balance between the two. Being strict doesn’t mean you’re not easygoing. It just means you have clear expectations of what you want. You just need to make sure you don’t have so many rules that it becomes unreasonable to follow.

Parents should be strict enough to create a safe environment for their kids that encourages the healthy growth and maturation of your child into a functioning adult. Don’t be so strict that it encourages rebellion and resentment.

A strict parenting style teaches kids that they must learn to deal with the consequences of their actions. This causes the child to learn how to make better decisions.

Being strict is not a bad thing, nor does it make you a bad parent. If you have unrealistic rules and expectations, that’s when being strict turns into a negative.