By Birgitte Coste
What type of parent are you? Beginning with studies in the 1960s, an understanding of three parenting styles has emerged to help explain the behavior and development of children.
Observing the impact that parents have on child development has been a fascination for researchers and sociologists throughout the years, but it was the work of Diane Baumrind that defined the idea of distinct parenting styles and the effects each method has on behavior, social skills and maturity.
Baumrind’s theory is based on two vital elements of parental responsiveness, which include warmth, “supportiveness” and acceptance; and parental demandingness, which considers disciplinary strategies and methods of behavior control. The job of parents is to influence, teach and direct their children to become secure, happy, independent adults, and such things as communication styles, expectations and parenting techniques can either help or hinder this process.
Of course, categorizing specific styles and identifying predicted outcomes is limited, since few parents will fit unquestionably into only one style. Most people use a mixture of techniques, and two parents may differ in their beliefs and philosophies, even though they are raising the same child. Individual personalities, social environments and the presence of other authority figures in a child’s life cannot be overlooked when evaluating the effects of parenting on child development. No one can deny that sometimes children raised in the same home grow up to be very different, while children raised in seemingly opposite environments may be equal when measured, according to Baumrind’s ideas of maturity and social adjustment.
Baumrind’s theory provides a great guideline in helping parents identify valuable techniques and recognizing areas that need change, but it should be used only as a framework upon which to build. Each parent needs to define his or her own child’s needs and work to effectively meet those needs, focusing on the individual and using the concept of parenting styles as a tool to help children become strong, happy or healthy adults.
1. Authoritarian. This style is defined as high demandingness and low responsiveness, meaning that parents have very high levels of expectation and very low tolerance for individuality, creativity or personal desires. They shape, control and judge behavior based on an absolute set of standards and demand that rules be obeyed without question. Tradition, predictability and rigid order are valued, and failure to follow the rules is not tolerated. Behavior is controlled by punishment. Authoritarian parents have a very black-and-white point of view, and children are always being judged or evaluated based on this distinction, making them either “good or bad” or “right or wrong.” There is no middle ground and no room for discussion or communication. Policies are not explained, nor do parents feel it is necessary, since unquestionable obedience is expected. The goal is for children to behave as adults, assume mature responsibilities and conform to expectations.
Children raised in strict, authoritarian homes are often anxious and withdrawn, have low self-esteem because they are unable to live up to expectations and usually do not engage in deviant behavior. Since most decisions are made for them, they tend not to be good at independent thinking, rank lower in social competence, and are unwilling to try new things. They tend to react poorly to frustrations and have difficulties in dealing creatively with challenges. Basically, these children obey out of fear of punishment, and their behavior is dictated by external elements.
2. Permissive. This style is defined by high responsiveness but low demandingness. Permissive parents are very indulgent, respond well to their child’s desires and have very few expectations. They use reasoning, manipulation and bribes to achieve control and want to be their child’s friend rather than an authority figure. They believe that children should be treated as equals and given a high level of autonomy; however, they do not expect them to behave as adults. This may lead to a self-centered, “me”-focused attitude with little regard for the needs of others. Rigid rules are considered to be restrictive and children are included in the decision-making process, with all policies being open for discussion and dispute. Permissive parents are usually afraid of confrontation so discipline is rare. Although they have very few expectations, they are very accepting of their children’s desires and interests and encourage them to pursue every opportunity.
Unfortunately, a complete lack of limits often results in insecurity. Children do not know what they can count on and will regularly test the limits, knowing that their parents will do whatever necessary to avoid conflict. Children raised in permissive homes tend to be impulsive and rebellious and are more likely to engage in experimentative, sometimes even problematic, behavior. Since they are treated as equals, they have good communication skills but may exhibit poor emotional regulation and tend to give up easily when faced with a challenge.
3. Authoritative. This parenting style is basically a “middle ground” or combination of the previous two. It is defined by a high level of demandingness balanced with an equally high level of responsiveness. Parents are supportive rather than punitive; however, they do have a clear standard of behavioral expectations. The authoritative parent will “direct” rather than “control” and strive to accept the individuality and interests of each child. They provide reasons for rules and welcome feedback, both listening and respecting their children’s point of view. Children are given a certain degree of say, with the knowledge that the parent is the final authority. Punishment is not usually used to prevent bad behavior, and children are encouraged to fulfill their potential and make their own decisions within a controlled framework of boundaries.
Diana Baumrind was a strong proponent of authoritative parenting. She believed that positive attention, fair rules and a warm, accepting environment leads to happy, well-adjusted children who are self-confident, capable and goal-oriented. Research has shown that these children have well-developed social skills, work to master tasks and are able to think both independently and creatively.
The three parenting styles introduced by Baumrind help parents evaluate their techniques and develop their own positive strategies so they can effectively raise happy children who grow to become secure, responsible and independent adults.
Birgitte Coste is an anthropologist and mother whose passion for parenting led her to create www.positive-parenting-ally.com, where she shares practical tips for raising children and details each of the three parenting styles.