What Is Authoritarian Parenting?

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There are many ways to parent your child, but according to researchers, there are four main parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved parenting. Psychologist Diana Baumrind came up with the framework for these styles, and researchers from Stanford University—Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin—further refined these styles.

One of the most widely known parenting styles is authoritarian parenting. An authoritarian parent might be described as strict and inflexible—an “it’s my way or the highway” type of parent. While there is merit in adding rules and structure into your parenting style, authoritarian parenting is often criticized because it’s not based on a warm, mutually understanding relationship. For this reason, most psychologists do not recommend an authoritarian parenting style.

Aude Henin, PhD, Co-Director of the Child Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, says that authoritarian parenting has two main characteristics which are high control and low warmth.

“Authoritarian parenting is characterized by high behavioral and psychological control, including rigid expectations for obedience to adult rules and demands, strict, harsh discipline, and punitiveness if expectations are violated,” Dr. Henin says.

Additionally, it’s indicated by less emotional responsiveness from the parent, says Dr. Henin. Parents who practice authoritarian parenting show little tolerance for a child’s expression of needs and demands. There is less focus on nurturing and respect for a child’s emotions, and more focus on rule-following, Dr. Henin explains.

In general, an authoritarian style of parenting is not recommended, says Ross Goodwin, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Virginia. However, there may be a few exceptions.

“While I do not recommend an authoritarian parenting style as a predominant approach, there are instances when it is appropriate, especially when safety or urgency are involved,” Dr. Goodwin says. “In these cases, a child must obey a parent’s instructions immediately and without question.”

Qualities of an Authoritarian Parent

Authoritarian parenting is a “because I said so” type of parenting. “Parents relying on authoritarian strategies discourage children’s questions about the parent’s expectations and decisions,” says Dr. Goodwin. “They expect children to obey rules and display appropriate behavior without question, at all times.”

Moreover, children who break parental rules are usually reprimanded in some ways, says Dr. Henin. “The parent’s focus is often on punishing ‘bad’ behavior rather than using positive reinforcement such as praise,” she says. Some authoritarian parents may use harsh punishments such as shaming or corporal punishment, Dr. Henin explains.

In many cases, authoritarian parents are not interested in a child who has their own thoughts or opinions. Decisions are usually made for the child by the parent, and input from the child is not considered. “Authoritarian parents can be cold and see the child’s emotions (such as sadness, fear, or anger) as unacceptable and may ignore or punish expressions of distress,” Dr. Henin describes.

Examples of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parenting in action might look like a parent who tells a child to do something and is unwilling to explain why, says Dr. Goodwin. An authoritarian parent may refuse to listen to a child explain their behavior. Controlling the child’s behavior is valued over the emotional needs of the child, and disciplinary methods used are punitive rather than supportive, Dr. Goodwin describes.

Examples of real-life authoritarian parenting will vary based on a child’s age, says Dr. Henin. For example, authoritarian parenting of a preschooler might look like a child getting in trouble at school for not sharing, and as a result, the parent punishes the child when they get home by taking away their favorite toys, Dr. Henin shares.

Authoritarian parenting in the teen years might be something like a high schooler wanting to take an art class as an elective, the authoritarian parent forbidding it, and making the teen take computer science instead. “The parent tells the teen that art classes won’t help them get a job and are for slackers who don’t want to do real schoolwork,” Dr. Henin describes.

Effects of Authoritarian Parenting

One of the top reasons experts don’t recommend authoritarian parenting is because of the negative impacts it can have on a child’s mental health and development.

Research has found that authoritarian parenting styles are linked with developmental consequences and mental health struggles that include anxiety, aggressive behavior, and depersonalization. What’s more, authoritarian parents are more likely to display signs of hyperactivity, are unable to conduct themselves appropriately, and have emotional struggles.

Studies have also found that many of these behavioral problems can be explained by the fact that children of authoritarian parents are not given tools to manage their feelings, as their feelings are often ignored. These children may grow up having trouble making personal decisions and may be shy or have low self-esteem. As they get older, these kids may end up having trouble trusting or respecting authority figures and may rebel against them.

The mental health and well-being of children raised by authoritarian parents may suffer considerably. A 2016 study found strong links between authoritarian parenting and depression. Adolescents raised by authoritarian parents were more likely to experience depression, as opposed to kids raised in other parenting styles, such as authoritative parenting, which emphasizes parental warmth along with rules and structure.

How to Be Less of an Authoritarian Parent

It’s okay if aspects of your parenting are colored by an authoritarian approach. Many of us were raised that way, and it’s hard to break free from these practices. It’s also not as though there aren’t any values in raising children with clear rules and boundaries. Still, it’s important to be in touch with your child’s feelings, and try to be a warm, kind parent.

One simple way you can accomplish this is to spend some time really listening to your kids, says Dr. Goodwin. “A shift toward greater responsiveness will help parents be warmer and more supportive toward their child,” he explains. “Pausing to listen and reflect on the child’s needs in the moment before taking a particular course of action can demonstrate respect for the child’s autonomy and developing inner life.”

Another thing you can do is to be sensitive to your child’s emotions whenever possible, Dr. Henin emphasizes. “It is critically important to demonstrate love, to comfort the child when they are distressed, and validate the child’s thoughts and feelings,” she says. Dr. Henin also recommends staying away from harsh punishments like yelling, name-calling, shaming, and physical discipline methods, which should always be avoided.

A Word From Verywell

If you were brought up believing that an authoritarian style of parenting was the only way to do things, it may be hard to adjust away from that mentality. But experts agree that authoritative parenting can have negative effects on children. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t discipline your children, but you should keep in mind their emotions and only discipline them in developmentally appropriate ways.

If you have any questions or concerns about parenting your child, and what is appropriate for them, you should reach out to your child's pediatrician for guidance and support.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Kuppens S, Ceulemans E. Parenting styles: A closer look at a well-known concept. J Child Fam Studies. 2019;28(1):168-181. doi:10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x

  3. King K, Vidourek R, Merianos A. Authoritarian parenting and youth depression: Results from a national study. J Prev Interv Community. 2016;44(2):130-9. doi: 10.1080/10852352.2016.1132870

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.