This is a great interview with Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting and other books. Here, he discusses his latest book: The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting. From the interview:
There’s nothing new about trying to link undesired out-comes to insufficiently traditional parenting. Indeed, the entire 1960s counterculture was attributed to parents—well, let’s just say “blamed on” parents, given the assessment of that counterculture by those who did the attributing. Specifically, the fault was said to lie with moms and dads who supposedly let their offspring have their way too often. This connection seems to have been sparked in the spring of 1968 by a New York Times Magazine essay called “Is It All Dr. Spock’s Fault?” written by a young sociologist named Christopher Jencks. “The new ethos . . . on leading college campuses,” he declared, is the result of “upper-middle-class children who . . . are mostly products of permissive homes.”
The trouble was, the homes that Jencks proceeded to describe—and it’s not clear how common they actually were—didn’t seem permissive so much as simply respectful of children. They were defined by hands-on parenting, but the active involvement consisted of justifying rules on their merits (rather than demanding absolute obedience), listening to kids’ reasons, and involving them in decision making. As Jencks saw it, these parents still relied on discipline to elicit compliance, but it was a version based more on wielding disapproval and guilt than on the crude employment of power.
Furthermore, despite his article’s title (which was likely supplied by an editor), Jencks didn’t entirely condemn what was happening on college campuses or the new generation’s resistance to authoritarian institutions. But a parade of conservatives who appropriated his thesis certainly did. For example, Spiro Agnew, soon to be Richard Nixon’s vice president, turned this issue into one of his signature campaign tropes, blasting student radicals as “spoiled brats who have never had a good spanking. . . . [Their] parents learned their Dr. Spock and threw discipline out the window.”
One inconvenient fact for such critics, which didn’t escape Jencks’s notice, is that some of the products of those allegedly permissive households ended up to the political right of their parents, challenging the established order as rebellious Goldwater conservatives. But an even more decisive rejoinder to the basic argument is that there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support it; indeed, there were several good reasons to question its plausibility. Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out that the young activists “were far from being the stereotyped products of permissiveness. In fact, they were no doubt among the hardest-working, most disciplined members of their generation.” Moreover, a social scientist who reviewed some empirical investigations of the issue found that they “demonstrated rather clearly that the political activity of young people . . . shows no substantial relationship with ‘permissiveness.’”
He also talks about the problems with praise, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation and teaching conditional vs. unconditional acceptance. Well worth a listen.