The study, led by researcher Elias Dinas, also shows that these changes are especially likely to happen during the college years. Conservative culture warriors have warned for years that universities are outposts of liberal indoctrination—and the study seems to confirm at least some of that warning.
“Extreme parental views of the world give children a clear choice for being with the parents through agreement, or against parents through disagreement,” says Carl Pickhardt, an author and child psychologist. “Thus extremely rigid views of right/wrong, trust/distrust, love/hate can be embraced by children who want to stay connected to parents, and can be cast off by children who, for their own independence, are willing to place the parental relationship at risk.”
And that’s the rub with parenting styles like the Russons’ or Wilder’s. Just as the parents came to their views through their own experiences and then tried to teach it as established truth, the Dinas study shows how quickly that teaching can be set aside when the children have strong political awakenings of their own.
Just ask Jacqueline Church Simonds, whose relationship with her conservative parents became strained by her own increasingly liberal views when she reached her twenties. Simonds’ parents grew up in moneyed, conservative southern Missouri households, and they believed that anyone who did not agree with their beliefs were Communists intent on destroying America.
For Simonds, 55 and now a publishing consultant, there was no point in questioning the political ideology of her parents; she simply accepted it as truth.
“They were my parents,” she says. “There was always talk about how the country was going to hell and the ‘negroes’ were going to take over the streets. They feared and distrusted anyone not white or wealthy .... When Nixon resigned, I watched every second. My mother informed me the country had just ended.”
But when her mother directed her to vote for a senator who had publicly opposed a woman’s right to choose, Simonds refused to use her vote to appease her mother. “I couldn't vote for him if he didn't respect my rights so I told her that, and she dismissed my concerns, saying, ‘That’s something they say to get votes,” Simonds recalls.
By 1988 Simonds was voting straight Democratic tickets, and her parents viewed her as the agitator and disturber of the peace of her family. Her parents blamed her husband, an East Coast liberal, for her political conversion but Simonds wouldn’t allow him to be the scapegoat for her change in mentality.
“That’s not what changed me,” Simonds says. “The increasing hatriotism—bigotry, anti-women, anti-poor—of the right changed me.”
It has been more than a decade since Simonds has mentioned politics around her parents. Even when news of President Obama’s first election landed her father in the cardiac ward, no one spoke a word. Because her parents held her to such an unyielding standard, she now offers herself much more wiggle room to try out different beliefs. Being pushed in one direction made her push back and in the tussle she found a balance, she says.