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Permissive Parenting: New Research Reveals Effects on Child Development

Permissive parenting, characterized by high responsiveness but low demandingness, offers a warm and accepting environment with few rules or punishments. Parents adopting this style are highly attuned to their children’s emotional needs, often granting their desires without imposing strict limits or monitoring behavior closely.

The permissive parenting style has developed a reputation for spoiling children. Children may develop a sense of entitlement, especially in academic settings, leading to anxiety over grades and difficulties with feedback. This style has also been linked to narcissism, where children seek external validation rather than understanding right from wrong.

However, recent research reveals contradictory results indicating that this style has some positives when used appropriately. While some studies point to lower self-esteem and increased aggression, others indicate protective factors against substance abuse and delinquency, alongside better social skills and academic performance.

While permissive parenting emphasizes responsiveness without demand, the opposite authoritarian style, which is highly demanding but unresponsive, can also have detrimental effects on children’s development. The goal for parents is to avoid the extremes of either style and strive for a balanced approach that combines high responsiveness with appropriate demands and limits.

This lax parenting style has become more common in industrialized countries where independence and creativity are valued, and social inequalities are rare. 

Permissive mother cries while unruly child runs around

What is permissive parenting?

Permissive parenting is characterized by high responsiveness and low demandingness. Permissive parents are very warm and responsive to children’s emotional needs. But they don’t set rules or enforce limits consistently.

In the permissive approach, parents are very attuned to their children’s feelings. These parents rarely say no to demands. Hence, permissive parenting is also known as indulgent parenting because parents tend to give in to their children’s desires and wishes.

Permissive parents dislike control over their children. These parents allow their children to develop naturally without imposed authority. Therefore, children’s behavior is not monitored or guided. 

Parents view themselves as a resource rather than an active agent shaping children’s behavior. Kids are allowed to make major decisions that are usually reserved for adults without guidance. These children also have very little responsibility, such as chores or homework.

Permissive parents want to be their children’s friends rather than authority figures.

What are the effects of permissive parenting?

Here are the pros and cons of permissive parenting according to different studies.


Children of permissive parents are more likely to develop an exaggerated sense of entitlement, particularly in academics. Academic entitlement may lead to anxiety over grades, a higher likelihood of cheating, lower genuine self-esteem, and poor evaluations of instructors who provide negative feedback.​1​


Permissive parenting has been theorized to contribute to narcissism in children because children learn that they will be rewarded regardless of their behavior. Therefore, these children are driven by desires for admiration and validation from others rather than principles of right and wrong.​2​

However, this theory has been recently challenged by research that shows indulgent parenting is correlated with healthy narcissism characterized by healthy ambitions, energy, creativity, and a firm sense of self when praises are not given indiscriminately.​3​


Various studies have shown that permissive parenting leads to lower self-esteem in children because the lack of high standards negatively affects children’s self-shaping process and emotional development.​4,5​

However, other studies have found that adolescents of indulgent parents tend to develop higher self-esteem.​6​


The effects of permissive parenting on children’s behavior are also inconclusive.

According to some studies, children without parental control have less self-regulation, resulting in aggression and behavioral problems.​7​

These kids have more deviant peer affiliations and delinquency. They have greater difficulty respecting others.​8​

However, another study has found that permissive parenting is a protective factor for substance abuse, delinquency, and school misconduct.​9​

Other studies also show that permissiveness is linked to secure attachment and better impulse control.​10​

Children have better social skills and better academic performance.​11,12​

Is permissive parenting good or bad?

Permissive parenting is bad because some studies have found negative effects on children primarily due to the lack of parental control. However, some studies have shown that permissive parenting is good for child development due to its responsiveness.

The mixed results might stem from varying interpretations of what “permissive” means. 

Developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind originally defined permissive parenting as high warmth but low behavior control. Some researchers view this as parents being lenient toward their children’s behavior, while others see it as parents being uninterested.

These two perspectives could lead to divergent outcomes in studies on permissive parenting.

How do you reverse permissive parenting?

A complete reverse of permissive parenting is unnecessary because this parenting style has some benefits, as evidenced in various studies. The key is to meet children’s emotional needs while guiding them to make sound decisions.

Here are some strategies you can use to turn things around.

  1. Announce it
    Let your kids (and spouse / co-parent) know you will adopt an authoritative parenting style. Assure them that you will still be warm and responsive to their needs like before, but now you will enforce rules and limits.
  2. Involve children in making rules
    Hold a family meeting to discuss what rules are needed. Ask their opinions and discuss the pros and cons. But you have the final say.
  3. Decide consequences for breaking rules
    There must be clear and reasonable consequences for kids for breaking the rules. Remember to use natural consequences to discipline (not to punish).
  4. Follow through
    This is the area many permissive parents lapse when they try to dislodge their permissive habits. If you are used to being a “nice” parent, it can be a struggle for your kids and you. That is another reason why using natural consequences is so important. You don’t need to be unkind or the “bad” guy. You teach your kids new behavior by letting them experience the natural consequences. The goal is to teach, not to punish. Remember, consistency is one of the most crucial aspects of authoritative parenting, allowing for the best outcomes in your children’s upbringing.

What to do if your spouse / co-parent is permissive?

Having two authoritative parents is ideal.

However, we can’t always count on changing others.

If your partner is permissive and you’ve tried but didn’t change him/her, the best thing to do for your child is to maintain authoritative parenting habits yourself.

Research shows that children turn out better if they have at least one parent using authoritative discipline than if they have none.

What are the 4 types of parenting styles?

The four types of parenting styles categorized by Baumrind are authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful parenting styles.

These parenting styles vary in the degrees of demandingness and responsiveness.

Authoritative parenting is highly demanding and highly responsive.

Authoritarian parenting is highly demanding but unresponsive.

Permissive parenting is not demanding but highly responsive.

Neglectful parenting is neither demanding nor responsive.

Why do parents choose permissive parenting?

Some parents choose permissive parenting because these parents were raised by strict parents and do not wish to impose the same rules upon their children. Other parents choose permissive parenting to compensate their children for the lack of time or separation in divorce. Research also shows that parents who prioritize the development of independence and creativity over achievement tend to adopt the permissive parenting style. 

This indulgent approach is more common in industrialized countries with low inequality, such as Sweden and Norway.​13​

In more equal societies, there is less variance in economic outcomes. Success and failure are not associated with substantial income gaps. These countries also tend to have stronger safety nets. These conditions reduce the stakes in parenting and make permissive parenting more attractive to parents who value autonomy and independence.

Which parenting style is the opposite of permissive parenting?

Some parents who fear the outcomes of permissive parenting want to do everything to avoid it.

Because permissive parenting is responsive and not demanding, some parents feel that the opposite, i.e., unresponsive and highly demanding, is good.

However, this over-compensation can lead to the authoritarian style of parenting, which is another extreme in parenting associated with bad outcomes in children.

What is another word for permissive parenting?

Permissive parenting is sometimes called indulgent parenting. Other parenting styles with permissive characteristics include laissez-faire parenting and overprotective parenting.


Permissive parenting infographic with indulgent parenting definition


  1. 1.
    Barton AL, Hirsch JK. Permissive parenting and mental health in college students: Mediating effects of academic entitlement. Journal of American College Health. Published online July 7, 2015:1-8. doi:10.1080/07448481.2015.1060597
  2. 2.
    Campbell WK, Miller JD, eds. The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Published online July 20, 2011. doi:10.1002/9781118093108
  3. 3.
    Cramer P. Young adult narcissism: A 20 year longitudinal study of the contribution of parenting styles, preschool precursors of narcissism, and denial. Journal of Research in Personality. Published online February 2011:19-28. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2010.11.004
  4. 4.
    Firouzkouhi Moghaddam M, Rakhshani T, Assareh M, Validad A. Child self-esteem and different parenting styles of  mothers: a cross-sectional study. Arch Psych Psych. Published online March 1, 2017:37-42. doi:10.12740/app/68160
  5. 5.
    Wischerth GA, Mulvaney MK, Brackett MA, Perkins D. The Adverse Influence of Permissive Parenting on Personal Growth and the Mediating Role of Emotional Intelligence. The Journal of Genetic Psychology. Published online September 2, 2016:185-189. doi:10.1080/00221325.2016.1224223
  6. 6.
    Raboteg-Saric Z, Sakic M. Relations of Parenting Styles and Friendship Quality to Self-Esteem, Life Satisfaction and Happiness in Adolescents. Applied Research Quality Life. Published online October 19, 2013:749-765. doi:10.1007/s11482-013-9268-0
  7. 7.
    Masud H, Ahmad MS, Cho KW, Fakhr Z. Parenting Styles and Aggression Among Young Adolescents: A Systematic Review of Literature. Community Ment Health J. Published online May 17, 2019:1015-1030. doi:10.1007/s10597-019-00400-0
  8. 8.
    Hinnant JB, Erath SA, Tu KM, El-Sheikh M. Permissive Parenting, Deviant Peer Affiliations, and Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence: the Moderating Role of Sympathetic Nervous System Reactivity. J Abnorm Child Psychol. Published online December 15, 2015:1071-1081. doi:10.1007/s10802-015-0114-8
  9. 9.
    Calafat A, García F, Juan M, Becoña E, Fernández-Hermida JR. Which parenting style is more protective against adolescent substance use? Evidence within the European context. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Published online May 2014:185-192. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.02.705
  10. 10.
    Ching KH, Tak LM. The structural model in parenting style, attachment style, self-regulation and self-esteem for smartphone addiction. IAFOR Journal of Psychology & the Behavioral Sciences. 2017;3(1):85-103.
  11. 11.
    Checa P, Abundis-Gutierrez A. Parenting styles, academic achievement and the influence of culture. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Research Study. 2018;1(4):1-3.
  12. 12.
    Maleki M, Mardani A, Mitra Chehrzad M, Dianatinasab M, Vaismoradi M. Social Skills in Children at Home and in Preschool. Behavioral Sciences. Published online July 8, 2019:74. doi:10.3390/bs9070074
  13. 13.
    Doepke M, Zilibotti F. Parenting With Style: Altruism and Paternalism in Intergenerational Preference Transmission. Econometrica. Published online 2017:1331-1371. doi:10.3982/ecta14634


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