In our information-driven world full of parenting research, experts, and books, it’s easy to think that the journey of parenting is a straight line. We might think that if we just parent in the “right way” or according to the books, our child will turn out to be an excellent, well-behaved, high-achieving adult. In reality, of course, life is more complicated than that. Behavior and development in humans are exceedingly complex. In human relationships, there are rarely straight lines, easy answers, or simple cause-effect dynamics. The topic of parenting styles is one such example. For decades, psychologists and parenting researchers have amassed journals full of knowledge about different parenting styles and how they may impact children. This information can be very enlightening for us to understand and help guide our parenting choices. However, the concept of parenting styles cannot tell us everything about our journey as parents and our impact on our children.

Parenting Styles: The Research

Beginning in the 1960s, psychologists began trying to understand and classify the different patterns or styles in which individuals parent their children. Researcher Diana Baumrind eventually developed a classification system of parenting styles. From that point forward, this classification of parenting styles has become a mainstay in parenting research. Over the years, it has been replicated in numerous ways and used in thousands of research studies. The following three main parenting styles emerged from Baumrind’s research:

Authoritarian: Parents with this parenting style have a high level of demandingness, firm discipline, and  low emotional responsiveness. This parenting style is often described as  “dictatorial” or with an expectation of “blind obedience.” This style of parenting involves a high expectation of obedience from children while providing little emotional support and explanation for why the boundaries or rules exist.

Authoritative: This parenting style is characterized by parents having a high degree of demandingness but with a high level of emotionally responsiveness. This parenting style is often considered the “middle ground” between authoritarian and permissive parenting styles. This style involves using firm discipline and high expectations for children, but with more explanation for why the boundaries or rules exist.

Permissive: This parenting style is characterized by parents having a low degree of demandingness and a high degree of emotional responsiveness. This parenting style could be described as the “laissez faire” approach to parenting. This style involves a lot of emotional support, but limited rules, boundaries, or discipline.

A few years later, based on research by other scholars, another style of parenting was classified as uninvolved parenting. Uninvolved parenting is characterized by parents having a low degree of both demandingness and emotional responsiveness. This parenting style is sometimes dubbed as “neglectful.” In general, this parenting style is one in which the parents primarily care for the physical needs of the child and not much more.

In the intervening years, the usefulness of these parenting styles has become evident as more and more research has linked these styles to different outcomes for children. Overall, authoritative parenting is linked to the most positive outcomes for children in terms of both mental health and achievement. Children whose parents practice authoritative parenting tend to be self-reliant and socially skilled, as well as do well academically. In contrast, authoritarian parenting is generally found to predict fewer positive outcomes for children. When parents use a more authoritarian style, their children tend to be obedient to their parents but struggle with behavior problems, depression, and delinquency. Permissive parenting, surprisingly, has shown a mixed pattern of findings for children. While it tends to be linked to social competence and self-confidence, it also predicts children having a greater tendency to struggle with anxiety, behavior problems, and delinquency. Lastly, it is not surprising to find that uninvolved parenting is associated with poor developmental paths for children. Children who experience uninvolved parenting tend to exhibit a lack of self-regulation and social skills, as well as poor school performance and delinquency

What Parenting Styles Don’t Tell Us

As useful as these parenting styles are for understanding how parents can best meet the needs of their children, they don’t tell us everything. Parenting is complex and multifaceted. Additionally, parents are not the only influence in children’s lives. Children are nested within a family, a culture, a geographic place, and a time in history–all of which can influence their development. 

When Baumrind developed the parenting styles concept, much of the research on parenting was conducted in Western countries, primarily with white, middle-class American families. Thus, originally, the conceptualization of these parenting styles did not account well for cultural variations. Since then, more research has delved into possible cultural differences in parenting styles and how they influence children’s development. The cultural context (and associated values) in which families are located may impact how these different parenting styles play out. For example, in cultures where greater collectivist values are held, the autonomy-supportive nature of authoritative parenting may not represent as good a “fit” as in Western cultures that highly value independence in children. In such cultures, a more authoritarian parenting style might be seen as more closely fitting the culture’s values, and the children’s outcomes might be more positive.

As parents, it’s easy to think of our influence on our children’s lives as a one-way street. We make choices that influence our children. In reality, the path of influence is more of a two-way highway. Yes, we do influence our children and their development, but children also influence us. This way of looking at parent–child relationships is still emerging in research, but its implications are fascinating and important. In relation to parenting styles, this research implies that our children’s genetics and behavior may influence our parenting style in addition to our own intentional choices. Some research, for example, points to the idea that a child’s genetic predisposition towards certain behaviors (e.g., positive or negative emotions) may influence how their parents respond to them. This approach helps us see that while parenting styles can be helpful for understanding parent–child dynamics, it is not always a simple one-way path.

Parenting Styles as One Piece of the Puzzle

The concept of parenting styles has no doubt changed how scholars investigate parent–child relationships. Using this concept, researchers are able to move beyond individual parenting choices to understand patterns of parenting behaviors that may influence children’s development. While this concept opens the doors to many useful insights, it does not tell us everything about why children develop the way they do and the role of other outside factors. 

Preview Blurb: What is your parenting style? Are you a strict disciplinarian or do you take a more laid-back approach to parenting? The idea of a “parenting style” can tell us quite a lot about a family’s approach to interacting with their children. Despite its usefulness, it can’t tell us everything about why our children turn out the way they do. Read on to learn more the role of parenting styles in children’s development and what questions still remain.

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.

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