Your Parenting Style

by Dr. Maryann Rosenthal

I believe it's that overall style or pattern of action rather than a specific decision that will most affect a child's behavior. Generally, psychologists have found that there are two main components of parenting styles.

One is responsiveness, or how much independence you're willing to grant. The other, for lack of a better word, is demandingness, how much strict obedience you require. How much obedience parents demand, how much freedom they grant, and how these two behaviors mesh go a long way toward defining the parents' style.

These parenting styles fall into a generally accepted four broad categories. Though different researchers give different names to them, the styles usually are said to be: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, and Uninvolved.

Authoritarian

Authoritarian parents are very strict and controlling. They have a strong sense of justice and of the need for obedience. They're big believers in clearly stated rules. Such parents take a dim view of being challenged. Give-and-take with their children is discouraged. Thus, these parents are highly demanding but not very responsive. Researchers believe children of authoritarian parents tend to be timid, have lower self-esteem, lack spontaneity, and rely to an unusual degree on the voice of authority.

Authoritative

While retaining authority and control, these parents are warmer and more communicative than Authoritarian parents. Authoritative parents seek a balance between the teens' desire for independence and the parents' desire to be listened to. These parents are demanding and responsive. They're assertive but not intrusive or restrictive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible and self-regulated as well as cooperative. The best-adjusted children, researchers have found, often have parents with an Authoritative style. Because the Authoritative parent encourages more freedom of expression, the child develops a sense of independence.

Permissive

Permissive parents, while often warm and accepting, make few demands on their children. They're lenient, avoid confrontation, and allow considerable self-regulation. They may worry about thwarting the child's creativity and sense of self. They're much more responsive than they are demanding. Sometimes the Permissive style is based on confusion. The parents are so out of touch with the pre-adolescent and adolescent world that the best they can do is to try to be a pal to their child.

Other Permissive parents want to compensate for what they themselves lacked as children. Perhaps they grew up in poverty and/or had parents who were overly strict. They offer children free reigns with no boundaries. Yet other Permissive parents act conditionally. They view the maturing child as a mini-adult and create children that will ask for anything. Making good grades, for example, may be linked to freedom and material benefits. Or, at its most lax extreme, permissiveness may take the form of indifference. The parents are just too busy, poor, troubled, or self-involved to exert much control. They give their children too much freedom, too soon and too young.

Uninvolved

The uninvolved parent demands almost nothing and gives almost nothing in return, except near-absolute freedom. This style is low in both demandingness and responsiveness. At its worst, it can verge into neglect. How would these parenting styles work in practice? For example, a teen wants to go with a bunch of friends on a weekend outing to Mexico where, the parent suspects, wild partying is on the agenda because of younger drinking-age requirements there. An Authoritarian parent might say: No way! And if I ever catch you going down there without my OK, you'll be in big trouble. An Authoritative parent may respond: No, I don't want you to go down there right now with your friends. But let's you and I go down soon, though, and check it out. If it looks OK, maybe you can go later with your buddies. A Permissive parent would say: Sure, go and have fun, but be careful. An Uninvolved parent may reply: Whatever.

Predicting Child Well-Being

Parenting style predicts child well-being in a number of areas, including social skills, academic performance, and the degree of problem behavior.

Children of Authoritarian parents may do well in school and not engage in problem behavior, but they tend to have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression. They may grow up to be highly anxious people who don't realize their full potential because they are always looking over their shoulder for that overly-demanding parent.

Permissive parents shield their kids from the consequences of their actions, as well as the complications of life. Thus, their children are more likely to be involved in problem behavior and perform less well in school, though they have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression than Authoritarian children.

And Uninvolved parents, of course, can sow a lifetime of havoc by their indifference or inability to deal with their children.

Authoritative parenting balance clear, high parental demands with emotional responsiveness and recognition of the child's need for autonomy. The child of Authoritative parents typically does well in school, develops good social skills, and avoids problem behaviors.

Authoritative parents have well-defined values and practice their values every day. They realize that having strengths and limits is realistic and normal for their children. They want their children to get everything they want in life. But they need to learn how to earn it.

Dr. Maryann Rosenthal is a highly respected clinical psychologist on family dynamics and best selling author of Be A Parent, Not A Pushover, recently selected as a book of the year on effective parenting. She is a featured authority on regional and national television and a global keynote speaker. She has been selected by Yahoo! Health, to be a family relationship expert. For more information visit www.drma.com.

Copyright © Maryann Rosenthal. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.