8 Characteristics of Authoritarian Parents

Authoritarian parenting

Verywell / Hugo Lin

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Authoritarian parenting is a style characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. It was one of the parenting styles described by developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind. In addition to authoritarian parenting, she also identified two other styles known as authoritative parenting and permissive parenting.

Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children, yet provide very little in the way of feedback and nurturing. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly. When feedback is given, it is often negative. Yelling and corporal punishment are also common in the authoritarian style.

People with this parenting style often use punishment rather than discipline. They are not willing or able to explain the reasoning behind their rules.

This article discusses the characteristics of authoritarian parenting and the factors that cause it. It also covers the impact that this parenting style has on children and how to respond if you or your partner is an authoritarian parent.

Characteristics and Examples

Baumrind believed that one of the major roles that parents play in a child's life is to socialize them to the values and expectations of their culture. How parents accomplish this, however, can vary dramatically based upon the amount of control they attempt to exert over their children.

The authoritarian approach represents the most controlling style. Rather than valuing self-control and teaching children to manage their own behaviors, the authoritarian parent focuses on adherence to authority. Instead of rewarding positive behavior, the authoritarian parent only provides feedback in the form of punishments for misbehavior.

Demanding, But Not Responsive

Authoritarian parents have lots of rules and may even micromanage almost every aspect of their children's lives and behaviors, at home and in public. Additionally, they also have many unwritten rules that kids are expected to follow—even though children receive little to no explicit instruction about these "rules." Instead, children are simply expected to know that these rules exist.

Little Warmth or Nurturing

Parents with this style often seem cold, aloof, and harsh. They are more likely to nag or yell at their children than offer encouragement and praise. They value discipline over fun and expect that children should be seen and not heard.

Little Explanation for Punishments

Parents with this style usually have no problem resorting to corporal punishment, which often involves spanking. Rather than relying on positive reinforcement, they react swiftly and harshly when the rules are broken.

Few Choices for Children

Authoritarian parents don't give children choices or options. Parents set the rules and have a "my way or the highway" approach to discipline. There is little room for negotiation and they rarely allow their children to make their own choices.

Impatient With Misbehavior

Authoritarian parents expect their children to simply know better than to engage in undesirable behaviors. They lack the patience for explaining why their children should avoid certain behaviors and expend little energy talking about feelings.

Mistrusting

Authoritarian parents don't trust their children to make good choices. Parents with this style don't give their children much freedom to demonstrate that they can display good behavior. Rather than letting kids make decisions on their own and face natural consequences for those choices, authoritarian parents hover over their kids in order to ensure that they don't make mistakes.

Unwilling to Negotiate

Authoritarian parents don't believe in gray areas. Situations are viewed as black and white and there is little to no room for compromise. Kids don't get a say or a vote when it comes to setting rules or making decisions.

Shaming

Authoritarian parents can be highly critical and may use shame as a tactic to force children into following the rules, using phrases such as "Why do you always do that?," "How many times do I have to tell you the same thing?," or "Why can't you do anything right?" Rather than looking for ways to build their children's self-esteem, these parents often believe that shaming will motivate children to do better.

Causes

Authoritarian parenting is often not something that parents engage in intentionally. Some factors that may contribute to an authoritarian style include:

  • Authoritarian upbringing: People who parent this way were often raised by authoritarian parents or in an authoritarian culture. One study, for example, found that parents exposed to authoritarian parenting as children were more like to raise their own kids with similar patterns and attitudes.
  • Less agreeableness: Research also suggests that authoritarian parents tend to be lower on the personality trait known as agreeableness. Less agreeable people tend to be less empathetic and more hostile. They also have more difficult relationships in general, including with their own children.
  • More neuroticism: Studies also show that authoritarian parents also tend to score higher on measures of neuroticism. Neuroticism is a personality dimension that involves emotional stability and is marked by a tendency to experience anxiety, doubt, depression, and other negative feelings.

Effect on Children

Parenting styles have been associated with a variety of child outcomes in areas like social skills and academic performance. The children of authoritarian parents may:

  • Act fearful or overly shy around others
  • Associate obedience and success with love
  • Conform easily, yet also experience depression and anxiety
  • Display more aggressive behavior outside the home
  • Have difficulty in social situations due to a lack of social competence
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Struggle with self-control because they are rarely able to make choices and experience natural consequences

Because authoritarian parents expect absolute obedience, children raised with this style are typically very good at following rules. However, they may lack self-discipline.

Unlike children raised by authoritative parents, children raised by authoritarian parents are not encouraged to explore and act independently, so they never really learn how to set their own limits and personal standards. This lack of self-discipline can ultimately lead to problems when the parental or authority figure is not around to monitor behavior.

While developmental experts agree that rules and boundaries are important for children, most believe that authoritarian parenting is too punitive and lacks the warmth, unconditional love, and nurturing that children also need.

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Tips for Avoiding Authoritarian Parenting

If you or your co-partner were raised by an authoritarian parent, you may fear repeating those patterns with your own children. Or you might notice that you or your partner already follow an authoritarian parenting style that you want to avoid. There are things that you can do to respond to these situations and learn to use a more authoritative parenting style instead.

  • Learn more about authoritative parenting. The more you understand the characteristics of a more authoritative style and how it benefits children, the more aware you can become of your own approach to parenting. Educating yourself about how to parent is an important first step.
  • Listen to your kids. Work on making an effort to listen to what your kids have to say without getting impatient or giving a knee-jerk response. Listening and validating your child's emotions are both essential for helping kids learn to recognize their emotions and develop a sense of self-control.
  • Establish household rules. Create expectations and guidelines, and make sure that everyone in your household, including your children and other caregivers, understands these rules. When everyone understands the rules and why they exist, you'll have an easier time enforcing them and following through with consistent consequences. 
  • Use logical consequences. When household rules are broken, follow through with consequences that are consistent and reasonable. Avoid corporal punishment and don't shame your children for making mistakes. 
  • Consider a parenting class. If you or your partner are concerned about your parenting style, consider taking a parenting class or talking to a family therapist. Therapy can be a great opportunity to learn and practice parenting strategies that you can then put to use in your own household.

Summary

Authoritarian parenting is characterized by very high expectations from parents with a lack of feedback and responsiveness. Authoritarian parents punish mistakes harshly, but offer little explanation for their rules and punishments. This parenting style is connected to a number of negative outcomes for children including lower self-esteem, social difficulties, and poor self-control, but there are strategies for adopting a more positive parenting style.

A Word From Verywell

While an authoritarian approach might be effective in certain situations that require strict adherence to the rules, it can have negative consequences when overused as an approach to parenting. If you notice that your parenting style tends to be more authoritarian, consider looking for ways that you can begin incorporating a more authoritative style into your daily interactions with your children.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What cultures use an authoritarian parenting style?

    Research suggests that the authoritarian parenting style may be more prevalent in traditional Asian parenting practices. This parenting style is more prevalent in non-Western cultures that place a great deal of emphasis on respecting elders. However, there is evidence that the harmful effects predicted by Baumrind and others are less apparent in these cultures.

  • Why do parents choose authoritarian parenting?

    Parents may use this style for a variety of reasons. It may be the result of their cultural background, their personality, or their own upbringing. In many cases, they may not recognize their own behavior because it is simply how they were raised and they don't know any other way of responding.

  • How does authoritarian parenting affect learning?

    Research has found there is a significant relationship between authoritarian parenting and children's academic success. Kids raised by authoritarian parents tend to be less successful both educationally and in their later career paths.

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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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