Why Parenting Styles Matter When Raising Children

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Parenting styles are constructs used to describe the different strategies parents tend to utilize when raising children. These styles encompass parents' behaviors and attitudes and the emotional environment in which they raise their children.

Developmental psychologists have long been interested in how parents affect child development. However, finding actual cause-and-effect links between specific actions of parents and later behavior of children is very difficult.

Some children raised in dramatically different environments can later grow up to have remarkably similar personalities. Conversely, children who share a home and are raised in the same environment can grow up to have very different personalities.

Despite these challenges, researchers have posited that there are links between parenting styles and the effects these styles have on children. And some suggest these effects carry over into adult behavior.

The Four Parenting Styles

In the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind conducted a study on more than 100 preschool-age children. Using naturalistic observation, parental interviews, and other research methods, she identified some important dimensions of parenting.

These dimensions include disciplinary strategies, warmth and nurturing, communication styles, and expectations of maturity and control. Based on these dimensions, Baumrind suggested that the majority of parents display one of three different parenting styles. Later research by Maccoby and Martin suggested adding a fourth parenting style. Each of these has different effects on children's behavior.

The four parenting styles that have been identify by Baumrind and other researchers are:

  • The authoritarian parenting style
  • The authoritative parenting style
  • The permissive parenting style
  • The uninvolved parenting style

Authoritarian Parenting

In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment.

Authoritarian parents don't explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, "Because I said so."

Other common characteristics:

  • While these parents have high demands, they are not very responsive to their children.
  • They expect their children to behave exceptionally and not make errors, yet they provide little direction about what they should do or avoid in the future.
  • Mistakes are punished, often quite harshly, yet their children are often left wondering exactly what they did wrong.

Baumrind says these parents "are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation." They are often described as domineering and dictatorial. Their approach is "spare the rod, spoil the child." They expect children to obey without question.

Effects of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to obedient and proficient children, but they rank lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem. They may also be more likely to lie to avoid punishment.

Authoritative Parenting

Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is much more democratic.

Common characteristics of the authoritative parenting style:

  • Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions.
  • These parents expect a lot of their children, but they provide warmth, feedback, and adequate support.
  • When children fail to meet expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving than punishing.

According to Baumrind, authoritarive parents are good at setting standards and monitoring their children's behavior. Their disciplinary methods are assertive and supportive rather than intrusive, restrictive, or punitive.

For authoritative parents, the goal is to raise children who are socially responsible, cooperative, and self-regulated. The combination of expectation and support helps children of authoritative parents develop skills such as independence, self-control, and self-regulation. 

Effects of Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting styles tend to result in happy, capable, and successful children.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, make very few demands of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control.​

  • Other common characteristics of permissive parenting:
  • Permissive parents prioritize being their child's friend rather than being a parent.
  • They are warm and attentive but tend to set few rules, rarely enforce rules, and have few expectations.
  • They allow their children to make their own decisions. 

According to Baumrind, permissive parents are responsive to their children but not demanding. Because they do not expect mature behavior from their children, kids may struggle to set limits for themselves. On the positive side, this can help kids become more self-sufficient and independent. On the downside, it can contribute to poor self-regulation.

Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children, often taking on the status of a friend more than a parent.

Effects of Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and self-regulation. These children are more likely to experience problems with authority and tend to perform poorly in school.

Uninvolved Parenting

In addition to the three major styles introduced by Baumrind, psychologists Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin proposed a fourth style: uninvolved or neglectful parenting.

An uninvolved parenting style is characterized by few demands, low responsiveness, and very little communication.

Other characteristics of the uninvolved parenting style:

  • While these parents fulfill the child's basic needs, they are generally detached from their child's life.
  • They might ensure that their kids are fed and have shelter but offer little to nothing in the way of guidance, structure, rules, or even support.
  • These parents may seem indifferent, unresponsive, and dismissive.
  • In some cases, these parents may reject or neglect the needs of their children. They may also be physically or emotionally abusive.

A 2019 study found that children raised by neglectful parents tend to struggle in school, experience more depression, have worse social relationships, have difficulty controlling their emotions, and experience more anxiety.

Effects of Uninvolved Parenting

Uninvolved parenting styles rank lowest across all life domains. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem, and are less competent than their peers.

The Impact of Parenting Styles

Research suggests that parenting styles can have a range of effects on children. Some of the areas of a child's life that may be affected in the present and in the future include:

  • Academics: Parenting styles can play a part in academic achievement and motivation.
  • Mental health: Parenting styles can also influence children's mental well-being. Kids raised by authoritarian, permissive, or uninvolved parents tend to experience more anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
  • Self-esteem: Kids raised by parents with an authoritative style tend to have strong self-esteem than kids raised by parents with other styles,
  • Social relationships: Parenting styles can impact how kids relate to other people. For example, kids raised by permissive parents are more likely to be bullied, while kids raised by authoritarian parents are more likely to bully others.
  • Adult relationships: Researchers have also found that kids raised by strict, authoritarian parents may be more likely to experience emotional abuse in adult romantic relationships.

Advantages of Authoritative Parenting

Because authoritative parents are more likely to be viewed as reasonable, fair, and just, their children are more likely to comply with their parents' requests. Also, because these parents provide rules as well as explanations for these rules, children are much more likely to internalize these lessons.

Rather than simply following the rules because they fear punishment (as they might with authoritarian parents), the children of authoritative parents are able to see why the rules exist, understand that they are fair and acceptable, and strive to follow these rules to meet their own internalized sense of what is right and wrong.

Mixing Parenting Styles

The parenting styles of individual parents also combine to create a unique blend in each family. For example, the mother may display an authoritative style, while the father favors a more permissive approach.

This can sometimes lead to mixed signals. To create a cohesive approach to parenting, parents must learn to cooperate and combine their unique parenting styles.

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Can You Change Your Parenting Style?

If you notice that you tend to be more authoritarian, permissive, or uninvolved, there are steps you can take to adopt a more authoritative parenting style. Strategies that may help include:

  • Listen: Spending time listening to what your child has to say. Let them share their opinions, ideas, and worries with you. 
  • Establish rules: Create a clear set of rules for your household and communicate your expectations to your child. In addition to telling your child what the rules are, be sure to explain why these rules exist.
  • Consider your child's input: Authoritative parents set the rules but are also willing to listen to their child's feelings and consider them when making decisions.
  • Be consistent: Enforce rules consistently, but be sure to provide consequences that are fair, proportionate, and educational. 

Developing a more authoritative parenting style takes time. With practice and consistent effort, however, you will find that your approach to parenting gradually shifts to a more supportive, involved approach that can lead to better developmental outcomes.

Limitations of Parenting Style Research

Links between parenting styles and behavior are based on correlational research, which is helpful for finding relationships between variables. However, such research cannot establish definitive cause-and-effect relationships.

While there is evidence that a particular parenting style is linked to a specific pattern of behavior, other variables, such as a child's temperament, can also play a significant role.

Children May Affect Their Parents' Styles

There is also evidence that a child's behavior can impact parenting styles. One study found that the parents of children who exhibited difficult behavior began to exhibit less parental control over time. Such results suggest that kids might misbehave not because their parents were too permissive but because the parents of difficult or aggressive children gave up on trying to control their kids.

Outcomes Vary

Some researchers have also noted that the correlations between parenting styles and behaviors are sometimes weak. In many cases, the expected child outcomes do not materialize. For example, parents with authoritative styles may have children who are defiant or who engage in delinquent behavior. Parents with permissive styles may have self-confident and academically successful children.

Cultural Factors Play a Role

Cultural factors also play a significant role in parenting styles and child outcomes. There isn't a universal style of parenting that is always best. For example, while authoritative parenting is linked to better results in European and American cultures, research has also found that this style is not linked to better school performance Black and Asian youth.

Summary

Parenting styles are associated with different child outcomes, and the authoritative style is generally linked to positive behaviors such as strong self-esteem and self-competence. However, other important factors, including culture, children's temperament, children's perceptions of parental treatment, and social influences, also play an important role in children's behavior.

A Word From Verywell

Understanding more about your own parenting style can help you explore different approaches to parenting your children. If you notice that you tend to have a more strict, indulgent, or dismissive approach, there are steps that you can take to become more involved and authoritative in how you relate to your children.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind 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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Additional Reading
  • Benson, JB, Marshall, MH. Social and Emotional Development in Infancy and Early Childhood. Academic Press, 2009.

  • Macklem, GL. Practitioner's Guide to Emotion Regulation in School-Aged Children. Springer, 2008.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.