Why Being an Authoritative Parent Is the Best Approach

authoritative parenting - mother talking to daughter
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What kind of parent are you? Which would you say best describes your parenting style—someone who is demanding and controlling; someone who is warm and responsive; or someone who indulges their kids and rarely disciplines? As in the case of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, one of these approaches is clearly better than the others.

The Four Types of Parenting Styles 

In the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind wrote a groundbreaking paper based upon her research in which she detailed three types of parenting styles she observed: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative parenting.

Authoritarian Parenting

Parents who fall under this classification of parenting style tend to demand absolute obedience from their children, no ifs, ands, or buts. Parents who practice authoritarian parenting do not believe they need to explain any of the rules they set, and they expect children to obey, no questions asked. They exert their will over their children and punish them with little warmth or support. Children of authoritarian parents often exhibit low self-esteem, depression, and fear of new situations.

Permissive Parenting

Parents who practice permissive parenting don't discipline or impose rules; they don't want to have any conflict with their children believe kids should regulate themselves. They are warm and emotionally responsive to their children, which is good; but they are reluctant to set boundaries or control their kids' behavior, which really isn't. They give in to their kids' demands and ignore misbehavior, which can have negative consequences for kids.

Research has shown that children who are raised by permissive parents are impulsive, disregard rules and limits, tend to have escalating levels of aggression and a higher risk of substance abuse as they get older, and even have a higher risk of depression and anxiety. (It makes sense—when children are not given limits and feel like they have control over their parents, it can be a very scary and stressful thing for them; this is exactly why kids need boundaries and rules.)

Authoritative Parenting

This style of parenting is the "not too hot, not too cold" porridge of the parenting styles. It has elements of authoritarian parenting (parents set rules and limits, enforce rules, and give kids consequences when they do not follow them) but authoritative parents are emotionally responsive and warm and listen and communicate with their children.

Authoritative parents give kids respect and listen (and expect kids to do the same) and encourage kids to be independent thinkers, but they do not give in to kids and expect cooperation and good behavior. When kids do something wrong, authoritative parents will discipline by trying to guide and teach their kids, and modify what they expect from kids depending on the situation and a child's individual needs.

The authoritative approach to parenting has been shown to lead to the best outcomes in kids, including better emotional health, social skills, more resiliency, and more secure attachments with their parents.

Uninvolved Parenting

This fourth style, identified by researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin, describes a method of parenting in which there is little communication, lack of involvement in their kids' lives, little warmth and responsiveness to kids' emotional needs, and inadequate or insufficient attention to disciplining kids or supervising them. Uninvolved parenting is associated with the worst outcomes for children: Kids who are raised with this style of parenting tend to be emotionally withdrawn, anxious and may be at greater risk for delinquent and dangerous behaviors as well as substance abuse.

Why the Authoritative Parenting Style Works

Out of all the parenting styles, children who are raised with an authoritative style of parenting have been shown to exhibit the best outcomes. Some of the many benefits of this approach for kids include the following:

  • They become more responsible, are able to regulate themselves, and learn to make good decisions on their own.
  • They have respect for adults, other people, and rules.
  • They're not anxious or worried about who's in charge because they know who is making decisions to make sure they are healthy and happy: the parents.
  • They are more empathetic, kind, and warm.
  • They tend to have fewer social problems with peers, get along with teachers, and be more popular at school.
  • They tend to have secure attachments and better relationships with their parents.
  • They may be more resistant to peer pressure.
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