In the last post I discussed four parenting styles (authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved and authoritative) based on the work of Baumrind [1, 2] and Maccoby and Martin . While I think they can be quite useful, we also need to recognise there are a number of limitations.
The authoritative parenting style has often been associated with positive outcomes for children [2, 4-7]. For example, authoritative parenting has been found to be a protective factor in a range of areas including mental health [7-10], social competence and resilience , substance abuse [11, 12], psychological flexibility , self-regulation , mood and behavioural problems [14, 15], personal adjustment  and aggression .
Much of the research, however, has been with middle-class, Anglo-Saxon families [18, 19]. Some research has found similar results in other contexts [e.g., 11, 14, 15], but a few research studies have found other parenting styles to be as effective, if not more so, in some cultural contexts. For example García and García  found that in Spain, children with permissive parents performed as well or better than children with authoritative parents in a number of areas including emotional responsiveness, self-esteem and a positive world view; Wang  found that both the permissive and authoritative parenting types were the optimal parenting styles for girls in China; and Afriani, Baharudin, Nor and Nurdeng  found that the authoritarian and permissive parenting style were related to improved adolescent social responsibility in Indonesia, whereas there was not statistically significant relationship between the authoritative style and improved adolescent social responsibility.
The four parenting styles are a static, simple representation of a complex issue. The simplification required to make it an easy to understand typology with only two dimensions (responsiveness and control) meant that other important dimensions have been given less priority. For example, Greenspan  argues that Baumrind did not place enough emphasis on the context and needs of the specific child. Too much control can undermine the ability of children (especially older ones) to develop independence, motivation and self-determination [22-25]. Parents often need to make decisions about whether or not to intervene, and their decision can vary from one child to another and from one context to another.
Authoritative parents are high in both responsiveness and control which can create dilemmas, particularly with teenagers. Because they are high in control, they are likely to believe that they have the right (if not the responsibility) to closely regulate their children’s behaviour, but because they are high in responsive they are likely to recognise the importance of teenagers having increasing control over their own behaviour . Smetna  found that authoritative parents differentiated between the types of issues that were involved. They were more likely to be controlling when issues affect the rights or welfare of others, but were more flexible in relation to issues of personal choice, and focused on societal or welfare concerns when addressing complex issues.
Grolnick  differentiates between “having control” which involves “being an authority…, making age-appropriate demands…, setting limits, and monitoring children’s behaviour” (p. 9) and being “controlling” which involves placing paramount value on compliance, pressuring children toward specified outcomes, and discouraging verbal give-and take and discussion” (p. 9). Having control is more consistent with authoritative parenting as it is more responsive and encourages greater autonomy. Control by authoritative parents, particularly with teenagers, could be thought of in terms of expectations and setting limits rather than the top down psychological, behavioural or verbal control of their children .
Greenspan  argues that in addition to the two dimensions used by Baumrind, Maccoby and Martin it could be helpful to have a third dimension: non-intrusiveness or tolerance. He argues that parents need to make frequent judgements about when they need to intervene and when it is better not to. As children become older, parents need to give their children more independence and autonomy while still being supportive and still setting some clear boundaries.
A number of authors argue that it is more useful to focus on parenting practices rather than parenting styles [e.g., 26, 27, 28]. Bean, Bush, McKenry, and Wilson  argue that rather than aggregating dimensions to form parenting styles, it is more useful to individually consider three dimensions of parenting behaviour: parental support, behavioural control and psychological control. Lee, Daniels and Kissinger  identify five parenting practices that need to be considered: decision making (how much control the parents have over decisions), discussion (how much parents discuss issues with their children), involvement (how often parents participate in activities with their children), expectation (the level of expectations parents have in relation to their children’s behaviour), and family rule (the degree to which family rules are enforced).
Although the four parenting styles provide some useful insights, we still need to recognise that parenting is a complex issue, and there is no magical formula for successful parenting. Although there may be some exceptions, the key message from research on parenting styles is that children benefit from having parent who are warm and responsive, set limits and boundaries, and adapt their parenting practices to the needs of the individual child.
If you liked this post you might want to follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:
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- Parenting for a better world
- Some definitions of family
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