Some readers may be unfamiliar with the expression 'coercive parenting'. It is used by some very liberal and laid back parents to describe what most of us would call responsible parenting; setting boundaries for our children, seeing that they clean their teeth at night and go to bed at a suitable time; this sort of thing. The idea of coercive parenting or coercive education is popular among some autonomously educating parents. They present it as the undesirable opposite of their own methods. Some ordinary parents say that they find the term 'coercive parenting' offensive. Personally, I find the very idea of 'coercive parenting' absurd. Let us look at this peculiar notion and see what we can make of it.
To begin with, I suppose that these people cannot be referring to physical coercion. It is literally impossible to force a child to eat a carrot or even put on her coat simply by using physical force. You certainly could not use physical force to compel a child to learn about the Tudors! Obviously, 'coercive parenting' must refer to trying to manipulate children emotionally and psychologically into doing as you wish. Now I would have no objection to doing this myself, if it worked. The problem is that it does not and cannot work. I wonder if any parents reading this have tried to use such techniques to cajole or bribe their toddlers into eating a healthy, balanced diet? 'Please, Jimmy, just try a mouthful of that delicious broccoli. How do you know you won't like it if you don't even taste it? All right, then you won't be having any pudding' The very thought of this sort of carry-on is enough to turn my blood cold! You might manage to create an eating disorder in a child like this; you certainly won't produce one who naturally eats a healthy diet in later life.
I have been viewed by some as a coercive parent myself, one who chose an academic path for his daughter rather than a musical or artistic one. I was asked on here recently what I would do if my daughter chose not to go to university. Again, my objections to using psychological manipulation of a child is not based upon ethical considerations but upon the fact that such efforts are doomed to failure. It is quite impossible to prevent a seventeen year-old girl from doing anything she wants. If my daughter chose to drop out of college, get pregnant or start injecting heroin; there would be absolutely nothing I could do about it. I remember vividly in the late sixties and early seventies when there were plenty of parents who believed firmly in 'coercive parenting' although they did not call it that. They tried to ensure that their daughters remained virgins until they got married, did not drink, kept away from unsuitable boys and avoided smoking cannabis. It was an utterly hopeless enterprise. The girls simply lied and deceived their parents wholesale. Those wished to have sex or take drugs did so and those who chose not to refrained. The parental attitude made no difference at all.
This does not mean that I do not believe that firm boundaries are unnecessary for a teenage girl, just as they are for a toddler. It means that I have a different idea as to how they should be maintained. I have never been one to believe either that my child is a better judge than me of what she needs to being doing academically. The whole of her course of study was laid out according to my plan and she pursued it willingly. This was not a case of forcing a reluctant child to do things which she would rather not do. It was a question of gaining her cooperation and working with her to these ends. Tomorrow I shall discuss 'cooperative parenting', which I see as the antithesis of both authoritarian parenting and letting a child dictate the course of her own life freely.