Understanding Parenting Styles

parenting styles

Parenting is a major factor in how an adolescent interacts with the world, makes choices, and creates their own identity. Parents instill values, model certain behaviors, and create the structures and expectations that their children grow into. As adolescents grow into young adults, they incorporate all they have learned from their parents while also trying to find their own sense of self and direction.

As parents of teenagers are keenly aware, they only have so much control over their children’s behavior. Changes in the brain and body, along with new social environments and pressures, are just a few factors that contribute to adolescent development and behavior. However, parents can provide their children with healthy guidance, boundaries, and expectations by using a parenting style that encourages positive development. Understanding parenting styles can help parents see where they may be overly permissive or harsh, and how to embrace healthier dynamics with their child during adolescent years.

Defining Parenting Styles

In the 1960s, developmental psychologist, Diana Baumrind, theorized that there were multiple parenting styles, with their own traits and effects on children’s development.[i] Over the years, other researchers have expanded upon these ideas. Defined broadly, parenting styles are the philosophies and approaches that a parent takes in raising their child. These can include their attitudes towards communication, the role of a parent in the household, the importance of setting expectations, and how to enforce discipline or consequences in the event of poor behavior.

Parenting styles can result from a combination of personal and cultural values, along with one’s own experiences inherited from their own parents. Research also points to a possible genetic component. Parenting styles are not fixed, and it’s unlikely that a given parent will act within one style all the time. Still, they can inform parents and give them insight into how they act with their children.

Authoritarian or Disciplinarian Parenting

Authoritarian parenting is easily summarized as “my way or the highway” parenting. It is based upon strict rules and expectations, with harsh or stringent consequences if they are not met. Authoritarian parenting may sometimes produce good performance in school or other pursuits, but it can also lead to a strained relationship between parents and children, as well as mental health and stress issues. In fact, adults who were raised with an authoritarian style as children reported more depressive and anxious symptoms compared to others.[ii]

Studies have also associated the authoritarian parenting style with an increased risk for conduct problems, as well as with difficulties in emotional understanding and social development in children.[iii] [iv] However, some of these more negative associations were not found in certain cultures where authoritarian parenting is more common, suggesting cultural factors also play a role in how parenting styles affect child development.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting is based upon an “anything goes” style. Parents who adopt this style are frequently warm with their children, but may not set firm expectations or limits. Overly permissive parents may not want to compromise their perceived friendship with their children by setting such limits, but this is rarely a healthy dynamic. In fact, the American Psychological Association notes that children raised in this manner can be “impulsive, rebellious, […] and low in self-reliance, self-control, and achievement.”[v] It is also linked to higher levels of aggression, school misconduct, and alcohol use in adolescents.[vi]

Uninvolved or Neglectful Parenting

Uninvolved parents have little interest or presence in their children’s lives. They are undemanding and unresponsive to their needs. Such parents exhibit little emotional warmth, offer few to no expectations, and leave their children to essentially fend for themselves with no guidance or support. Needless to say, this approach is damaging to children and thus results in the worst outcomes across the board in terms of behavioral, social, and personal outcomes.[vii]

Authoritative Parenting

Authoritative parenting – a parenting style that we advocate for at Shortridge – is widely viewed as a healthy approach to raising young adults. It is also correlated with higher life satisfaction compared to other parenting styles.[viii] It combines emotional warmth with firm but fair boundaries and expectations. Authoritative parents clearly communicate what they expect of their children, why those expectations exist, and what will happen if they are not met. Authoritative parents also offer praise for good behavior, and model good behavior in terms of their personal values and their communication with others. Ideally, authoritative parents work with their children to reach agreement in terms of what is fair as far as expectations. They are also willing to work with their children to overcome obstacles to success, rather than focusing on punishment or disapproval.

 Incorporating Authoritative Parenting into Your Relationship With Your Child

Parents can begin to develop more authoritative traits by talking to their children about their performance and behavior, and working with them to set goals and expectations which make sense to the child. They can also place more of a focus on praising their child for their accomplishments or positive trends in their behavior. Parents can have an honest conversation with their child about difficulties they may have, in the form of social challenges or problems with academics, and come up with strategies together to give their children the support they need to overcome them.

In the adolescent years, some parents may exhibit a natural tendency to become more hands-off and to let their children explore and make their own mistakes. This tendency may be necessary to a degree, but should be balanced with guidance and expectations that keep the child safe and supported overall. Similarly, other parents may become more strict during the adolescent years due to new risks in their children’s lives. This should be balanced with a willingness to give children space to grow independently, so that they can develop their own identity and a sense of autonomy. Authoritative parenting is all about striking this balance between structure and guidance on the one hand and the encouragement of individuality and self-directed growth on the other.

Research has shown that the risk for unwanted behaviors results from a combination of a child’s individual temperament and the context provided by parents.[ix] Obviously, parents cannot control the influence of their child’s personality, genetics, or social environment on their behavior. However, adopting healthy parenting habits can give adolescents the stability and structure they need to navigate a difficult period in their development.

Parents cannot be expected to switch to an authoritative style overnight, or commit to it all of the time. Rather, authoritative parenting is a goal that parents can work towards, and a philosophy that can inform their decisions. Adopting its principles of clearly communicated and negotiated boundaries, expectations, and consequences, as well as emotional support and praise for good behavior, can help both adolescents and their parents develop healthier relationships and a positive dynamic for future growth. 

Here’s another article on parent styles.

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