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Parenting Styles

Parenting can have a significant impact on any number of outcomes for children. This post summarizes the four major parenting styles.

Authoritarian parenting. Authoritarian parents are very demanding of their children but not very responsive to them. These parents use control, establish a strict set of rules, and do not generally provide a rationale for why those rules must be followed. Children are not allowed to question the authority of the parent and are often punished harshly for disobedience. Authoritarian parents’ interactions with their children are characterized by a lack of warmth and affection. Harsh punishment, a characteristic of authoritarian parenting, is common in collectivist cultures or among individuals with a conservative Protestant background.

Distinguishing between harsh physical punishment (corporal punishment) and physical abuse is challenging, as these behaviors seem to exist on a continuum. In addition, there are diverse cultural standards for what constitutes normal versus abusive physical discipline, even within the multicultural environment of the U.S. Physical discipline that is deemed acceptable in some cultures is deemed abusive in others. Parent psychological aggression towards a child is the greatest risk factor for parent behaviors escalating from harsh physical punishment to abuse.

Permissive parenting. Permissive parents are very responsive to their children but demand little from them. They relinquish control to their children, and if rules are established, they are not consistently enforced. Children are allowed to make choices for themselves, even when the results of their choices may not be positive. Permissive parents’ interactions with their children are characterized by warmth and affection, regardless of the child’s behavior.

Permissive parenting is common in Latino households. It is also thought to be the most common style among American families due to a widespread belief that the emphasis on unconditional acceptance will foster harmony within the family and greater self-esteem for the children. While permissive parenting has not consistently been associated with greater self-esteem for children, the primary advantage of a permissive parenting style is that it can result in a close parent-child bond.

Neglectful parenting. Neglectful parents are neither responsive to nor demanding of their children. They do not set limits for their children, and they respond only to the basic needs of the child. Children are essentially left to raise themselves and make their own choices about behavior. Neglectful parents minimize their interaction with their children, and they do not display warmth or affection. Instances of neglectful parenting tend to be higher among adolescent mothers, mothers who suffer from depression, and parents who use or misuse drugs. Although not necessarily indicative of a causal relationship, neglectful parenting is also common among the parents of delinquents.

Authoritative parenting. Authoritative parents are both highly demanding of and responsive to their children. Authoritative parents establish reasonable, clear standards for behavior. They do not seek to control a child’s behavior without providing a rationale for why certain choices are beneficial for the child. Rules are set through parent and child cooperation, and the consequences for breaking those rules are consistently and fairly enforced. An authoritative parent allows his or her children to make their own choices within reasonable limits and when age appropriate. Authoritative parents’ interactions with their children are characterized by warmth and affection, even when discipline is necessary. While authoritative parents may occasionally use an authoritarian method (such as corporal punishment), they generally still do so within the framework of their overall style and with the child’s best interest at heart.

You can take a quiz at to find out your parenting style.

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