Parenting is not an easy task for any individual and yet, a child’s relationship to his/her parent is one of the most defining characteristics of his/her future psychology. As such, it is no surprise that many developmental theorists have attempted to explain a variety of different parenting styles. One such clinical and developmental psychologist named Diana Baumrind espoused that there are four parenting styles, which she deemed: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and rejecting/neglecting.

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These styles exist on a sort of spectrum related to two overarching aspects of parenting called parental responsiveness and parental demandingness. The former describes how reactive a parent is when their child has a need. The later involves the amount of discipline and, subsequently how much autonomy a parent or parents expect from their child(ren). Parents who expect their child(ren) to be extremely mature and responsible fall on the higher end of the demandingness domain (O’Reilly & Peterson, 2014). These two domains are complex enough in their interactions, which is why Baumrind further organized parenting into her four categorizations. She called parents who were highly demanding disciplinarians authoritarian (O’Reilly & Peterson, 2014). While not always abusive, abusive parents fall at the highest part of this scale. Conversely, permissive parents demand little from their child and often have no rules or rules that are not consistently enforced Tagliabue, Olivari, Bacchini, Affuso & Confalonieri, 2014). This can also extend into the extreme when parents are so passive that they neglect and/or reject their child’s needs altogether, which in many ways can be another form of abuse.

Finally, authoritative parents fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. They provide appropriate discipline as needed and yet are open minded and responsive to their child’s needs. There are examples of each of these styles in society and considering real life examples of Baumrind’s parenting styles can aid in ones understanding of how children grow and develop. To better appreciate Baumrind’s parenting styles, I considered three different families with identifiably different philosophies and/or parenting styles. One such style was actually observed at the home of my best friend. She has not had an easy life and is raised by a single mother. Her father left home when she was a young child (age 2) and she remembers almost nothing about him aside from what people have told her. She reports that she knows her mother loves her in many ways; however, overall her style is considerably permissive (Tagliabue, Olivari, Bacchini, Affuso & Confalonieri, 2014). She spends long hours working two jobs and does little to promote discipline in her home. She allowed her daughter to drink, smoke cigarettes and have friends over to do the same as early as middle school. Similarly there is little or no routine in their household. Her daughter goes to bed and wakes up when she wishes making her tired on school days and sleeping past noon on weekends, which is seen in other young people raised with this parenting style (Dornbusch, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts & Fraleigh, 1987). She is often late or delinquent in school and told me that, “her mother graduated from college and still has to work herself to the bone so, there isn’t much point.” Her mother’s passive parenting style has lead to hopelessness in many ways. When they do connect it is often over shopping trips or lavish dinners that are few and far between. Money is no substitute for time and attention and this is clear in this particular family example. That is not to say that there are not some benefits to a more relaxed parenting style.

A stark difference can be seen between the permissive style that is described above and the authoritarian style that my aunt and uncle utilize with my cousin. My uncle in particular works in the military and is a very heavy handed disciplinarian. For example, my sixteen year old cousin had the door taken off of his room for three months because he was ten minutes late to dinner. There are even some instances in which his father spanks him when he breaks the rules which, is particularly upsetting to him because of his age. He is also very engaged in soccer and when he does not perform well in his sport his father makes him run extra laps and practice drills after dinner until he is exhausted. While he does well in school and is largely a very disciplined person himself, he is clearly affected by how his parents raise him. He struggles with a great deal of anxiety for which he is medicated and, although I love him very much, he is described by many people as skiddish and socially awkward (O’Reilly & Peterson, 2014). I certainly notice the uptight nature of his personality even in the way he carries himself. He is always extremely early for responsibilities and often looks tired and stressed out by even the smallest details of life.

While there is no perfect parenting style, the authoritative style is the closest thing to perfection. Essentially, this falls in the middle of the spectrum between the two other extremes. One such authoritative parent is actually demonstrated on the popular television show Kate plus eight. Despite having eight children, Kate is a devoted mother who provides her children with appropriate discipline. There is an area in place for every toy and letter from school and every child has their own right to privacy. Organization is a key part of her success, at least as shown in the context of her television show. She also expertly lays out her expectations for her children (Tagliabue, Olivari, Bacchini, Affuso & Confalonieri, 2014). They each have specific chores and are expected to contribute to the family as a whole. Overall her style is quite authoritative and her children appear well developed. Unlike other young famous people they are hardly in the news, particularly for indiscretions and even those minor ones that are featured on the show are dealt with a compassionate parenting style. This is all true despite a huge media scandal related to her former husband’s infidelity. An event that can devastate a family and even a specific parenting style, Kate met the criticism by being an even more articulate and strong mother. This is the sort of parenting that is not always easy but is certainly commendable.

Whatever style a parent/parents tend towards, one thing is clear: parenting has an effect on the development of a child. Anxieties and neuroses can become problematic if parenting styles are too extreme. Thus, it is always important for parents to consider developmental cues from their children. A well adjusted child typically reflects a moderate parenting style that involves plentiful affection, respect and clearly defined goals.

  • Dornbusch, S. M., Ritter, P. L., Leiderman, P. H., Roberts, D. F., & Fraleigh, M. J. (1987). The relation of parenting style to adolescent school performance. Child development, 1244-1257.
  • O’Reilly, J., & Peterson, C. C. (2014). Theory of mind at home: linking authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles to children’s social understanding. Early child development and care, 184(12), 1934-1947.
  • Tagliabue, S., Olivari, M. G., Bacchini, D., Affuso, G., & Confalonieri, E. (2014). Measuring adolescents’ perceptions of parenting style during childhood: psychometric properties of the parenting styles and dimensions questionnaire. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa, 30(3), 251-258.