Skip to main content
Parenting Styles: How They Affect Children
Apr 1, 2001

Parenting is a most challenging yet rewarding experience. Baumrind, who studied parenting styles during the early 1960s, concluded that they differ in four important areas: parents' warmth/nurturance, discipline strategy, communication skills, and expectations of maturity. She posited three types of parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative (Berger 2001). Parents are the major influence in their children's lives. Thus their perception of how children think, and should be raised is crucial in determining children's behavior. Other factors, such as genes, peers, culture, gender, and financial status, are of lesser importance. Studies reveal a correlation between parenting styles and school competence, delinquency, violence, sexual activity, antisocial behavior, alcohol and substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and self-perception.

Authoritarian Parents

Authoritarian parenting, also termed dictatorial or harsh, is low on warmth/nurturance, strict on discipline, high in parent-to-child communication but low in child-to-parent communication, and high on expectation. This style has been predominant throughout Western history: "It was effective in status quo times, for example in agrarian-industrial societies" (Dinwiddie 1995).

Authoritarian parents show little affection and "seem aloof from their children" (Berger 2001, 283). Parents instruct and order, do not consider the children's opinion as a group, and discourage verbal give-and-take (Gonzalez-Mena 1993). Obedience, respect, and tradition are highly valued. Rules are non-nogoliable, parents are always right, and disobedient children are punished-often physically. However, parents "do not cross the line to physical abuse" (Berger 2001, 283). As children obey their parents in order to avoid punishment, they become passive. Authoritarian parents also expect a level of maturity higher than the norm for their child's particular age group: "The authoritarian parents assign the child the same responsibilities as adults" (Scarr, Weinberg, and Levine 1986, 306). Responsiveness is low, as the approach is parent-centered and stresses the parent's needs.

This almost noninteractive style has serious developmental drawbacks (Daniel, Wassell, and Gilligan 1999). Children are more susceptible to antisocial peer pressure during adolescence, a time when peer influence is the greatest (Collins et al. 2000); learn not to discuss issues with their parents (why bother if you are always wrong or ignored?); and are influenced greatly by their peers. Often frustrated, they distance themselves from their parents by rebelling against the latter's values and beliefs.

Steinberg et al. (1994) reveals that boys in this category have the highest level of violence. Steinberg (1996) shows that these teenagers are less self-reliant, persistent, and socially poised, and have lower self-esteem. In addition, there is a strong inverse correlation between such authoritarianism and good grades. Other research indicates that they lack social competence and rarely initiate activities: "They show less intellectual curiosity, are not spontaneous and usually rely on the voice of authority" (Parenting n.d.).

Permissive Parents

Permissive parenting, also labeled as neglectful or disengaged parenting, is high on warmth, very low on discipline and structure, low in parent-to-child communication but high in child-to-parent communication, and low on expectation. This style was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. The fact that many German children and adults had followed Hitler led people to attribute this to Germany's authoritarian home environment, which demanded unquestioning obedience. Thus their parents "conditioned" them for Hitler. (Dinwiddie 1995). Hoping to counteract such undesirable side-effects, they became permissive.

Permissive parents are nurturing, warm, and accepting. Their main concerns are to let children express their creativity and individuality and to make them happy (Neal 2000), in the belief that this will teach them right from wrong (Berger 2001). Permissive parents find it hard to set clear limits, provide structure, are inconsistent disciplinarians (Huxley 1998), and reward bad behavior regularly (Dworkin 1997). Children are not pushed to obey guidelines or standards that, even when they do exist, are not enforced (Barakat and Clark 1999).

Permissive parents take orders and instructions from their children, are passive, endow children with power (Gonzalez-Mena 1993; Garbarino and Abramowitz 1992), have low expectations, use minimal discipline, and do not feel responsible for how their children turn out.

Ironically, these children turn out to be the unhappiest of all (Neal 2000). They are more likely to exhibit such psychological problems as anxiety and depression (Steinberg 1996), are the second group (after authoritarian) most likely to commit violence (Steinberg et al. 1994), and engage in antisocial behavior (Simons, Lin, and Gordon 1998). Research links permissive parents with delinquency, substance abuse, and sexual activity (Snyder and Sickmund 2000; Jacobson and Crockett 2000].

In effect, parents teach their children that they can get their way by manipulating others: "Children learn a false sense of control over adults that increases their manipulative behavior" (Huxley 1998). Later on, they do poorly in school, have higher rates of misbehavior in areas involving adult authority, and "may also grow up manipulating around rules because those are not firm" (Thinking n.d.).

As they have not been taught how to control or discipline themselves, they are less likely to develop self-respect. This lack of discipline and structure engenders a desire for some type of control, and so they put "a lot of energy into controlling parents and trying to get parents to control them" (Gonzalez-Mena 1993, 157).

Their unmet psychological needs make them "vulnerable to being easily discouraged by everyday problems and turns the child away from full and satisfying participation in the world" (Garbarino and Abramowilz 1992, 42). This, in turn, hinders their social development, self-esteem, and positive self-concept. Without high expectations to realize, "children of permissive parents generally have difficulty controlling their impulses, are immature, and reluctant to accept responsibility" (Parenting n.d.).

Steinberg (1996) shows a strong correlation between permissive parenting and poor grades in families where parents are not involved in their children's education and do not initiate a give-and-take relationship with their children. Other negative outcomes are sleep disturbances (Dworkin 1997) and feelings of insecurity.

Authoritative Parents

Authoritative parenting is high on warmth, moderate on discipline, high in communication, and moderate in expectations of maturity. This style is becoming more pervasive in the West. Authoritative parents are warm and nurturing, create a loving home environment, and provide a high degree of emotional support (Ingersoll 1989). Unlike permissive parents, they are firm, consistent, and fair (Barakat and Clark 1999).

Authoritative parents discipline through rational and issue-oriented strategies in order to promote their children's autonomy while ensuring conformity to group standards (Marion 1999). They establish and enforce behavior standards (Glasgow et al. 1997) and stay in control. "Family rule is democratic [rather] than dictatorial" (Berger 2001, 283). Parents use reason, negotiation, and persuasion-not force-to gain their children's cooperation (Marion 1999). Their listening-demanding ratio is roughly equal.

Children are given alternatives, encouraged to decide, and accept responsibility for their actions and decisions. The end result is self-empowerment (Barakat arid Clark 1999). When the children's opinions are valued and respected, both children and parents benefit (Marion 1999; Gonzalez-Mena 1993).

Authoritative parents set developmentally appropriate limits and

standards for behavior. They make it clear that they will help their children. If their demands are not met, they are forgiving and understanding rather than punitive (Glasgow et al. 1997; Berger 2000). Overall, this parenting style is high on mutual understanding and based on reciprocity.

In fact, both parties benefit. Developmental opportunities are provided for children, as the quality of interaction and nurturance is high and expectations are realistic (Garbarino and Abramowilz 1992). In addition, such parents are more likely to encourage academic success (Glasgow et al. 1997), which has a positive correlation with good grades (Steinberg, 1996). This can be attributed to parental involvement in their children's education and their use of open, give-and-take communication through family reading, writing, and discussions.

Research also shows that these children are less influenced by negative pefir pressure and develop successful peer relationships (Collins et al. 2000). As authoritative parenting provides a balance between control and independence, il produces competent, socially responsible, self-assured, and independent children (Gonzalez-Mena 1993). Children are more likely to develop high self-esteem, positive self-concept, greater self-worth, less rebellion, and generally are more successful in life.

Furthermore, they are the best adjusted of all children. According to Thinking (n.d), they ranked highest in self-respect, capacity to conform to authority, and greater interest in the parents' faith in God. They also respect authority, are accountable, and control their impulses. Steinberg (1996) shows that they are more confident and responsible, less likely to use or abuse drugs or alcohol, and less likely to be involved in delinquency. These children also reported less anxiety and depression and the least amount of violence (Steinberg et al. 1994).


Western culture places great importance on planning for children and their upbringing. Hence, parents-to-be spend a great deal of time thinking about everything-from which brand of diapers to use to which college they want their child to attend. However, less importance is given to parenting style. Research has proven repeatedly that parenting styles have a "direct correlation with how children will grow up, how they live and whether they will abide by the rules in society" (Thinking n.d.). Therefore parents-to-be must analyze different parenting styles, their effects, and what works best for them and their child.


  • Barakat, I. S. and J. A. Clark. "Positive Discipline and Child Guidance." 1999. Online at: gh6119.htm [25.3.2000].
  • Berger, K. S. The Developing Person throughout the Lifespan. 5th ed. New York: 2001.
  • Collins, A. W. et al. "Contemporary Research on Parenting," American Psychologist 55, no. 2 (2000): 218-32.
  • Daniel, B., S. Wassell, and R. Gilligan. Child Development for Child Care and Protection Workers. London: 1999.
  • Dinwiddie, S. "Setting Limits: Steering down the Rocky Road of Childrearing." KidSource (Feb.l99S). Online at: setting. limits.html.
  • Dworkin, P. "Permissive Parenting May Be Hurting Kids' Sleep." Science Daily Magazine (9 Oct. 1997). Online at: 1997/10/971009063543.hlm.
  • Garbarino, J., and R. Abramowitz. "Sociocultural Risk and Opportunity." In Children and Families in the Social Environment. Ed. J. Garbarino. New York: 1992.
  • Glasgow, K. L. et al. "Parenting Styles, Adolescents' Attributions, and Educational Outcomes in Nine Heterogeneous High Schools." Child Development 68, no. 3 (1997): 507-29.
  • Gonzalez-Mena, J. The Child in the Family and the Community. New York: 1993.
  • Gordon, T. Parent Effectiveness Training. New York: Plume, 1970.
  • Huxley, R. "The Four Parenting Styles." Parent-ingtoolbox (27 Sept. 1998), On line at:
  • Ingersoll, G. M. Adolescents. Englewood Cliffs: 1989.
  • Jacobson, K. C., and L. J. Crockett. "Parental Monitoring and Adolescent Adjustment: An Ecological Perspective." Journal of Research on Adolescence 10, no. 1 (2000): 65-97.
  • Marion, M. Guidance of Young Children. 5th ed. Englewood Cliffs: 1999.
  • Neal, K. Lecture at George Mason Univ. (16 Oct. 2000).
  • "Parenting Styles/Children's Temperaments; The Mutch." Aboutourkids. Online at:
  • Scarr, S., R. Weinberg, and A. Levine. Understanding Development. Orlando: 1986.
  • Simons, R. L., K. Lin, and L. C. Gordon. "Socialization in the Family of Origin and Male Dating Violence: A Prospective Study." Journal of Marriage and the Family 60, no. 2 (1998): 467-78.
  • Snyder, H. N., and M. Sickmund, "Challenging the Myths. 1999 National Report Series." Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Feb. 2000). Online at: www. [2000, May 25].
  • Steinberg, L. Beyond the Classroom; Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need To Do. New York: 1996.
  • Steinberg, L. et al. "Over-time Changes in Adjustment and Competence among Adolescents from Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful Families." Child Development 65, no. 3 (1994]: 754-70.
  • Steinberg, L., and A. Levine. You and Your Adolescent: A Parent's Guide for Ages 10-20. New York: 1997.
  • "Thinking Smart about Parenting." Online at: