Parenting Styles & How Children Interpret Them

'Because I said so'. 'Boys will be boys'. 'Be a good girl'. 'You’re just like your father'. 'That’s how I was raised, and I turned out fine'.

Sound familiar? Most parents have been given or heard some form of parenting advice similar to those listed above. And while offering such ‘wisdom’ is nothing new, the concept of parenting is a relatively modern idea. Prior to the 1900s the term didn’t exist – ‘parenting’ doesn’t appear in dictionaries until 1918. And it wasn’t until the 1970s when the concept of parenting became a part of mainstream conversations.

Today, however, there is a seemingly endless amount of advice and information on the topic. Hundreds of books on various parenting approaches – from ‘Positive Discipline’, ‘attachment parenting’, ‘helicopter parenting’, ‘tiger parenting’, and yes, even Smart Love – line bookstore shelves, all promising to help parents raise their children to become happy and successful adults. But with such an abundance of information, how can parents evaluate and determine the good advice from the bad?

In the 1960s, clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind identified a general spectrum of parenting styles that is still valid today: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative.

On one end of the spectrum is the authoritarian parenting style, defined by Baumrind, as an “attempt to shape, control, and evaluate the behavior and attitudes of the child in accordance with a set standard of conduct. [The parent] values obedience as a virtue and favors punitive, forceful measures to curb self-will at points where the child's actions or beliefs conflict with what [the parent] thinks is right conduct. [The parent] does not encourage verbal give and take, believing that the child should accept [their] word for what is right.”* Parenting approaches that tend toward authoritarian include ‘tiger parenting’ and ‘tough love’.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum is the permissive parenting style, defined as “attempts to behave in a non-punitive, acceptant and affirmative manner towards the child's impulses, desires, and actions. [The parent] makes few demands for household responsibility and orderly behavior. [The parent] allows the child to regulate his own activities as much as possible, avoids the exercise of control, and does not encourage him to obey externally defined standards.”* One example of permissive parenting is ’indulgent parenting’.*

So which parenting style is better for children? Authoritarian or permissive? The answer is neither.

Although these parenting styles are polar opposites, research consistently shows that, in fact, both styles “have been linked with a variety of negative developmental outcomes including behavior problems over time.”** Some of these can include children experiencing low self-esteem, demonstrating aggressive behavior, becoming withdrawn or depressed, or struggling socially.