The four parenting styles in child-raising are authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved parenting styles. The authoritative parenting style is the best, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and psychologists worldwide. The uninvolved parenting style is linked to the worst outcomes in children.
A 2010 study in the United States surveying over ten thousand school-aged students found that authoritative parenting was the most popular style, followed by authoritarian parenting.
Parenting styles are important because how parents interact with their children has a lifelong impact on children’s healthy growth, including emotional, physical, and behavioral development. Let’s explore the 4 types of parenting styles and their effects on children.
- Parenting styles definition
- Authoritative parenting
- Authoritarian parenting
- Permissive parenting
- Uninvolved parenting
- Does parenting style matter?
- Best parenting style
- Why is parenting harder today?
- Final thoughts
Parenting styles definition in psychology
Parenting styles are the different approaches that parents use to raise their children.
The four main types of parenting styles are based on research by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s and the work of Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin at Stanford University in 1983.1
These parenting types are categorized based on two dimensions: demandingness and responsiveness. Demandingness refers to behavioral control and maturity expectations, and responsiveness pertains to parents’ emotional sensitivity.
Psychologists use these styles widely to understand the link between parenting approaches and children’s behavior and development.
Authoritative parenting style
The authoritative parenting style is high in demandingness and responsiveness.
Parents with high levels of demandingness expect their children to achieve and mature at a high standard. Authoritative parents set rules and enforce clear boundaries to guide their children toward becoming responsible adults.
However, authoritative parents are warm and responsive despite being demanding. They are assertive but not punitive or restrictive. They use guidance and positive discipline instead of punishment. They reason and explain their actions to teach children values, morals, and goals.
The authoritative style is also called the democratic parenting style because parents allow negotiations and consider children’s opinions.2
Authoritative parents care about their children’s well-being and respect their autonomy. They give children freedom and encourage independence.
Authoritative parents tend to have the following characteristics.
- They explain parental expectations and family rules.
- The authoritative discipline focuses on teaching children rather than punishing them.
- They use positive parenting strategies to reinforce positive behavior and prevent problems.
- They take their children’s feelings and opinions into account.
- They care about their children’s physical and emotional well-being and try to develop a healthy parent-child relationship.
Children of authoritative parents tend to have better emotional health. They feel loved and cherished. They have fewer mental health issues. These children are happier, have higher self-esteem, and perform better in school. They are also more independent and have better social skills.
Kids raised with authoritative parenting tend to be more physically active and encounter lower levels of harmful stress, often linked to less responsive parenting styles. These factors contribute to improved physical health.3
Positive disciplinary methods result in fewer behavioral problems such as delinquency. Children are more likely to develop a secure attachment and better relationships with their parents.
Researchers have found the authoritative approach is associated with the most favorable outcomes.
Authoritarian parenting style
The authoritarian parenting style is high in demandingness but low in responsiveness.
Authoritarian parents also have high expectations for their children’s maturity and achievement. However, the high standards set by authoritarian parents are often enforced through rigid rules imposed without considering the child’s perspective.
Authoritarian parents expect blind obedience to their absolute standard. They don’t explain the rationale behind their rules and often justify their commands with “because I said so.” The authoritarian discipline is punitive. Parents focus on punishing the mistakes harshly to make children feel sorry rather than teaching appropriate behavior.4
The authoritarian approach is also known as the disciplinarian or autocratic parenting because of the strict discipline and severe punishment.
These stern parents are low in responsiveness and tend to be cold. They give more importance to upholding their authority than fostering a nurturing environment for their children. Authoritarian parents often mistake their children’s fear for respect.
Authoritarian parents tend to have the following characteristics.
- They don’t explain their decisions and believe kids should follow their rules without question.
- They believe kids should be seen and not heard in the household; thus, communication is one-directional.
- They believe children’s opinions or feelings aren’t important.
- They view children’s attempts to reason as defiance.
- They scold their children more often than praise them.
The authoritarian child-rearing style has pros and cons but has more cons than pros.
Children of authoritarian parenting tend to have worse emotional health. They have more mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and drug use. These children are likely unhappy, have lower self-esteem, and perform worse academically.5
Using harsh punishment to control children’s behavior can cross into child abuse territory as the severity escalates.6 Children exposed to such adverse childhood experiences are often linked to poor health outcomes in their adult years, including diabetes and heart attacks.
Adults raised by authoritarian parents generally adhere to rules but harbor unresolved anger. They often rank low in happiness. Over-controlling parenting blocks opportunities for children to develop self-regulation and independent decision-making skills. This can lead to more impulsive, aggressive, and reactive behaviors.7
On the positive side, research indicates that authoritarian parenting can have protective benefits in certain cultural backgrounds, including African-American and Asian communities. However, the findings are inconclusive as studies present both positive and negative outcomes of this parenting style.
Permissive parenting style
The permissive parenting style is low in demandingness but high in responsiveness.
Parents who are not demanding set very few rules and boundaries. If there are rules, they are likely not enforced. When parents do give out consequences, the consequences may not stick. Children can avoid punishment by begging because permissive parents are lenient and forgiving.
Permissive parents are warm and indulgent, focusing extensively on their children’s emotional well-being. They aim to fulfill their children’s desires whenever feasible.
The permissive approach is also known as the indulgent or laissez-faire parenting style.
Permissive parents likely have the following characteristics.
- They want to be their children’s friends rather than parents.
- They are carefree and believe in “let kids be kids.”
- They do not like to say no or disappoint their children.
Kids brought up under permissive parenting often display a sense of entitlement. Academic entitlement can contribute to mental health issues such as depression, stress, and a child’s self-esteem problems.8
Permissive parents do not limit unhealthy food intake or insist on healthy habits. As a result, kids are at a higher risk for health problems, such as obesity, sleep deprivation, and tooth decay.9
Since children raised by permissive parents often have few boundaries, they are more prone to disregarding rules and showing antisocial behavioral problems.10
On the positive side, research indicates that children of indulgent parents tend to exercise more, linked to better overall health.11
Uninvolved parenting style
The uninvolved parenting style is low in both demandingness and responsiveness.
Parents with low demandingness do not set firm boundaries or high standards. Uninvolved parents rarely enforce clear rules, leading to a lack of structure and guidance in their children’s lives. These parents expect children to raise themselves. Parents don’t spend much time or energy meeting children’s basic needs, and the children do not receive much parental attention or nurturance.
Neglectful parents are also not responsive. They are neither punitive nor supportive, often appearing indifferent to their children’s activities or needs.
The uninvolved approach is sometimes called neglectful parenting because parents are largely emotionally and physically absent.
Uninvolved parents generally exhibit the following characteristics.
- They don’t spend time with their children.
- They rarely ask about their children’s lives or know about their activities, homework, or friendships.
- Being a parent or raising children is not a priority for them.
- They may grapple with various challenges, including depression, substance abuse, childhood trauma, or overwhelming responsibilities.
Children raised under uninvolved parenting commonly face mental health and emotional regulation challenges. These kids often report sadness and have the lowest self-esteem compared to those from other parenting styles, feeling neglected, unloved, and insignificant.12
Poor physical health is more common in these children.13
Research shows that parental involvement is a critical factor in children’s education. The uninvolved parenting style is the most harmful to children’s academic achievement.14
Neglectful parents do not have rules or monitor their children’s behavior. These kids are more at risk of behavior problems and delinquency.15
Does parenting style matter
Parenting style matters significantly because it can shape a child’s development and genetic expression. A comprehensive study by the Queensland Brain Institute and the VU University of Amsterdam analyzed data from 14.5 million pairs of twins. The research has revealed that the environment shapes nearly half of an individual’s behavior and personality traits.16 Parenting is one of the most impactful environmental factors children are exposed to since birth. Therefore, parenting style is vital in determining a child’s future outcomes, which has been confirmed in decades of studies.
How do parenting styles affect children?
Parenting styles affect the child’s emotional, cognitive, social, moral, cultural, physical, and mental development.
Emotional development – A child’s early bond with parents shapes their ability to form relationships and manage emotions throughout life. Secure attachment from a responsive parenting style provides a foundation for emotional regulation and resilience.17
Cognitive development – Providing a stimulating environment with educational toys, books, and activities and getting involved in a child’s education can positively impact academic performance.18
Social development – Children often mimic parents’ social interactions, such as relationship formation, cooperation, conflict resolution, and empathy.19
Moral and behavior development – Parents are the primary source of moral and ethical guidance, shaping a child’s sense of right and wrong. Parenting and disciplining styles also affect the child’s moral development. Parents with warmth, strict control, sympathy, and prosocial moral reasoning tend to create prosocial behavior in children.20
Cultural development – Parents pass down cultural norms, traditions, and values, shaping a child’s cultural identity.
Physical health – Parents influence eating habits and attitudes toward physical activity, affecting a child’s long-term health.
Mental health – Parenting styles affect a child’s self-esteem, stress-coping, and mental health development.
What is the best parenting style?
The authoritative parenting style is generally considered the best parenting style because consistent research has demonstrated its association with the most favorable outcomes in children. Children have mental health, better academic performance, and less tantrums.
The conventional parenting wisdom tells us there is no one right way to parent. However, psychologists have found strong and consistent links between parenting styles and outcomes.
Nonetheless, within a parenting style, there are different parenting practices. So, different kids can benefit from different parenting practices in the authoritative parenting style.
What is the worst parenting style?
The uninvolved parenting style also called the neglectful parenting style, is considered the worst parenting style, as studies have shown it is associated with the least favorable outcomes in children.
What are the 3 most common parenting styles?
The 3 most common parenting styles are authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive, which Diana Baumrind categorized through her studies on parenting styles.
What is the most popular American parenting style?
The most popular American parenting style is the authoritative parenting style (49%), followed by the authoritarian parenting style (23%), the permissive parenting style (20%), and uninvolved parenting style (8%).21
What is the least common parenting style?
The least common parenting style in the United States was neglectful parenting style, according to a 2009 study. 8% used this uninvolved parenting style out of 9.5K participating families.
What is the most effective parenting style?
The most effective parenting style is the authoritative parenting style, according to research because this style combines high expectations with emotional warmth and open communication to foster independence, self-discipline, and emotional well-being in children.
What is the harshest parenting style?
The harshest parenting style is the authoritarian parenting style due to its combination of very high demands and low responsiveness. Authoritarian parents impose rigid rules and high standards, allowing little open dialogue.
When rules are broken, these parents utilize punitive, strict discipline with little explanation or emotional nurturing. While authoritarian parenting aims to produce obedient children, it can damage self-esteem, hinder social skills, and lead to behavioral problems.
What is the least strict parenting style?
The least strict parenting style is the permissive parenting style. Parents who adopt this approach tend to be lenient and indulgent, often avoiding setting firm boundaries or enforcing rules.
Permissive parents are generally more responsive to their child’s desires and less likely to exert authority, aiming to act more like a friend than a parental figure. While this style may create a relaxed home environment, it can sometimes lead to poor self-discipline.
What is the gentle parenting style?
Gentle parenting is a child-centered approach emphasizing empathy, understanding, and emotional connection instead of punitive measures.
Gentle parents build a solid emotional bond with their children, fostering a sense of security and well-being. These parents focus on understanding the underlying reasons for a child’s behavior rather than simply reacting to the behavior itself.
In this style, discipline is not about punishment or control but about teaching and guidance. Parents use non-coercive methods to help their children understand the consequences of their actions, and they employ active listening, open dialogue, and mutual respect to solve problems collaboratively. The goal is to equip children with the emotional tools needed to navigate challenges independently, now and in the future.
Why is parenting harder today?
Parenting is considered harder today than in previous generations because many parents feel a shift in child-rearing practices. There is higher pressure to be the “perfect parent.” The prevalence of conflicting parenting advice online leaves parents confused and self-critical.
However, every generation believes they shoulder more parenting challenges than their predecessors. The “good old days” tend to be viewed through rose-colored glasses because of the lack of firsthand parenting experiences from one’s childhood.
In truth, parenting has always been hard regardless of the era.
At what age is parenting the hardest?
Some parents feel that parenting is the hardest in infancy, while others think toddlerhood presents more difficulty. Similarly, some parents feel that pre-adolescence is the most challenging, while others consider teenage years the toughest.
There are different challenges at different stages of development. The perception can vary widely depending on factors such as the child’s temperament, the parent’s expectations, the parent-child relationship, and external circumstances such as financial stability or social support.
Final thoughts on parenting styles
Understanding your parenting style isn’t about getting into a cycle of guilt or shame. It’s also not about striving for perfection. No parent is perfect, and parents are expected to exhibit different parenting styles in different situations.
Knowing your parenting choices can help you become the best parent you can be. Research consistently shows that authoritative parenting yields the most positive results. As you change toward the authoritative approach, the benefits to your child’s behavior, well-being, and relationship with you will become evident over time.
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