Having good parents is extremely important for a child’s well-being, as parenting can have a lasting influence on both the child and the adult that they will grow up to be. There are two essential dimensions of parenting: responsiveness and demandingness. Along these axes lie the four parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved, and authoritative. Authoritarian parents are unreasonably strict with their children and unwilling to communicate or show affection. Permissive parents are warm and personable with their children but are excessively laissez-faire about rules and structures. Uninvolved parents do not place any expectations or rules on their child, nor do they show affection or care. Finally, authoritative parents combine the best traits of other styles and provide a balance, showing both their authority and their affection. Research suggests that the latter style consistently produces the most favorable outcomes.
It is difficult to argue that parents are some of the most influential figures in a person’s life, especially a child’s. The interactions between family members create a foundation for the person that the child will grow up to be. The household environment has a profound effect that can be either positive or negative, depending on a wide variety of factors. One of the most important is the parenting style or the way a parent interacts with the child. The way parents position themselves emotionally, and the way they exert authority over a child can drastically change how the child develops. There are four styles currently recognized by psychologists: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved. They significantly differ in the ways that parents exert control over their children and show affection and encouragement.
The Four Styles
Essentially, the four parenting styles can be imagined as coordinates on a two-axis grid. Along one axis lies the parent’s strictness, demandingness, and their ability and willingness to discipline the child. Along the other lies the parent’s emotional connection to the child, responsiveness, and warmth (Tashjian, 2018). Parenting style is determined by the degree to which these characteristics are present in the parent. The styles are not absolute, and some parents can exhibit a mix or a combination (Dewar, 2018). The theory behind the parenting styles has been developed throughout the latter half of the XX century, most notably by Diana Baumrind. Their effects on the child’s development have also been studied very well (Merlin, Okerson, Hess, 2013). Among these effects is the ability to deal with difficulty, propensity for risk-taking and substance abuse, and various mental health issues.
Authoritarian parenting is a style that is characterized by high demandingness and low responsiveness. Parents that exhibit this style have very high standards for their children and demand them to perform at a high level. To uphold these standards, authoritarian parents impose strict discipline and oversight on their children and punish them for every transgression. The discipline is not aimed at making a child learn a particular lesson or to shape them into any particular person; it serves only to punish undesirable behavior. Paradoxically, while holding the child to a high standard, the parent does not expect them to succeed and do not let them act freely and deal with the consequences. They expect the child to know how all the official and unofficial rules without explaining them, and dish out punishment if any of them are broken (Cherry, 2019d). The parent is the ultimate authority in the child’s life and is thus intolerant of any deviations, compromise, or attempts at independence.
Communication with an authoritarian parent is most often one-sided, as they do not tolerate negotiations or talking back in general. They are cold and distant, communicating with a child from the position of a ruler, rather than a partner. The children’s emotional needs are ignored in favor of a structured environment (Merlin, Okerson, Hess, 2013). Authoritarian parents do not like their children having fun, and do not offer praise for correct behavior or outstanding achievements. Correct behavior and achievements are seen as the standard, from which the child can deviate by misbehaving or underperforming.
On the opposite end of the spectrum lies permissive parenting, which is characterized by low demandingness and high responsiveness. Permissive parents do not impose much structure and rules on their children and do not tend to punish them for much. They are not confrontational, and they allow children to regulate their own behavior and solve their own problems. To coax the child to behave in a desirable way, they use positive reinforcement rather than punishment, which may become a bribe for children to exploit (Cherry, 2019b). The few rules that they do have are not consistent and can be bent or broken sometimes. Parents allow children to make decisions and deal with their consequences, sometimes to a very high degree. Overall, permissive parents interact with children as if they were their friends rather than an older family member.
In personal communication with their children, permissive parents are very warm and personable. They encourage and support their children and appropriately react to correct behavior and achievements. They exhibit love and nurture and respond to their children’s emotional needs. They respect their children’s boundaries, allow personal space, and do not intrude in their private lives. However, their warmth and non-obstructive parenting can become excessively indulgent and even decadent, while also not providing help and structure that the children may need.
An extension of permissive parenting is uninvolved parenting or neglecting parenting. Initially, this style was considered a sub-type of permissive parenting, but it was developed into a fourth type in the 1980s (Merlin, Okerson, Hess, 2013). Uninvolved parenting is characterized by being low in both demandingness and responsiveness. These parents do not impose any rules or demands on their children, nor do they show much affection. These parents can sometimes be too overwhelmed by their other problems to pay attention to anything else (Cherry, 2019c). Another example of uninvolved parenting is intentionally avoiding and rejecting an unwanted child. While parents provide shelter, food, clothing, and other necessary material things for their children, they do not provide guidance, support, or help.
Uninvolved parents are as cold and distant as authoritarian ones, but not as aggressive. They do not set any expectations on the child, and they do not pressure them into conforming to any standard. Uninvolved parents are disengaged from their parental responsibilities; they simply do not care. The children of these parents are forced to fend for themselves and find their own solutions to problems, as well as their own sources of guidance and structure.
The fourth and final parental style is authoritative style, which is characterized by being high in responsiveness and demandingness. Authoritative parents demand a lot from their children and expect them to follow the rules. They impose discipline and set boundaries, punishing children for behaving poorly. However, they are also open for communication, and they tend to have fair and reasonable standards. They listen to their children and want to come to an understanding; they do not punish simply to punish but to teach a lesson. They are open to negotiation and will take various circumstances into account when making disciplinary decisions (Cherry, 2019a). Authoritative parents show affection to their children, support them, and accommodate their emotional needs. The children are explained why rules are important, and how following them is beneficial. Rather than giving the staple “because I said so,” authoritative parents engage with their children and proactively try to make them better people. They encourage a certain degree of independence and want to teach children to think for themselves.
Authoritative parenting is seen as the most balanced style, which adopts the best parts of the other styles while negating their drawbacks. The parents are as warm and personable in interaction, and they will show as much love as a permissive parent would. However, they also impose some structure on the children and do not allow them to get out of control. They allow children reasonable autonomy and support them as needed, rather than disengaging completely or being on constant watch. Rather than being a child’s ruler or a friend, an authoritative parent appears to be more like a mentor.
Different parenting styles can lead to vastly different outcomes, both positive and negative. Authoritarian parenting, for one, restricts children’s autonomy and makes them less adjusted and less capable of making independent decisions. They are also less socially adjusted and tend to exhibit a number of behavioral problems, such as aggression or withdrawal. They become more skeptical of authority and can sometimes rebel and become delinquent. Children of authoritarian parents are more often depressed, have lower self-esteem, and can even show suicidal tendencies. They sometimes show greater academic and career achievements, but that may be because parents force them to (Merlin, Okerson, Hess, 2013). These children are extrinsically motivated and are more focused on performance rather than self-improvement.
The children of permissive parents are much better off than the authoritarian parents, but they still exhibit some negative traits that stem from their parenting. For example, these children are less responsible and are more aggressive and more prone to indulgence. They tend to develop substance abuse problems and exhibit more sexually risky and delinquent behavior. They grow up impulsive and may suffer from self-destructive tendencies. On the other hand, they are more self-reliant, independent, and creative than the other types.
Uninvolved parenting seems to produce the worst outcomes out of the four. The children of uninvolved parents are significantly more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and there are indirect reasons to believe that they are also more prone to take sexual risks. They have worse mental health as well, being very likely to become depressed. Their academic and career performance is also lacking, as they exhibit lower cognitive competence and self-regulation.
Predictably, authoritative parenting produces more positive results than the other types. The children of authoritative parents tend to be socially adjusted, adventurous, self-reliant, and confident. They can control their impulses well and are less likely to engage in substance abuse. They are more emotionally mature and have better mental health outcomes. These children are also intrinsically motivated, which has a profound positive effect on their lifetime achievements.
It is important to note, however, that these outcomes are consistent with American culture. According to Dewar (2018), other cultures have different parenting styles that may not fit into this framework. Those that do may not produce the same outcomes as they do in the US. Several countries reported that permissive parenting was just as effective, if not more, than authoritative parenting. That said, authoritative parenting has been consistently found to produce positive outcomes, just as authoritarian parenting has been found to produce negative ones, regardless of culture.
Growing up, children are influenced a lot by their family, especially their parents. Psychologists have developed four broad parenting styles, each of them with their own strengths and weaknesses. Authoritarian parents are strict and cold, permissive parents are indulging and affectionate, uninvolved parents are distant and disengaged, and authoritative parents are caring and responsible. It appears that authoritative parenting is the most balanced option that consistently produces happy children that grow up to be well-adjusted adults.
- Cherry, K. (2019a). Authoritative parenting characteristics and effects. Web.
- Cherry, K. (2019b). Permissive parenting characteristics and effects. Web.
- Cherry, K. (2019c). Uninvolved parenting: Characteristics, effects, and causes. Web.
- Cherry, K. (2019d). 8 Characteristics of authoritarian parenting: The effects of authoritarian parenting on children. Web.
- Dewar, G. (2018). Parenting styles: An evidence-based, cross-cultural guide. Web.
- Merlin, C., Okerson, J. R., Hess, P. (2013). How parenting style influences children: A review of controlling, guiding, and permitting parenting styles on children’s behavior, risk taking, mental health, and academic achievement. The William & Mary Educational Review, 2(1), 31-43.
- Tashjian, S. (2018). Parenting Styles and Child Behavior. Web.