Parenting styles – another look

(Photo: The Image Kid)

(Photo: The Image Kid)

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 [3]. 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 [7], substance abuse [11, 12], psychological flexibility [4], self-regulation [13], mood and behavioural problems [14, 15], personal adjustment [16] and aggression [17].

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 [18] 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 [20] found that both the permissive and authoritative parenting types were the optimal parenting styles for girls in China; and Afriani, Baharudin, Nor and Nurdeng [21] 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 [22] 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 [25]. Smetna [25] 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 [23] 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 [7].

Greenspan [22] 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 [27] 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 [26] 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).

LoveAlthough 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:

  1. What’s your parenting style?
  2. When is it OK for kids to walk home alone?
  3. Parenting for a better world
  4. Some definitions of family
  5. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families


  1. Baumrind, D., Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 1966. 37(4): p. 887.
  2. Baumrind, D., The Influence of Parenting Style on Adolescent Competence and Substance Use. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 1991. 11(1): p. 56-95.
  3. Maccoby, E. and J. Martin, Socialization, personality and social development, in Handbook of child psychology: , P.H. Mussen and J. Hetherington, Editors. 1983, Wiley: New York.
  4. Williams, K.E., J. Ciarrochi, and P.C. Heaven, Inflexible Parents, Inflexible Kids: A 6-Year Longitudinal Study of Parenting Style and the Development of Psychological Flexibility in Adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2012. 41(8): p. 1053-66.
  5. Millings, A., et al., Good Partner, Good Parent: Responsiveness Mediates the Link Between Romantic Attachment and Parenting Style. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 2013. 39(2): p. 170-180.
  6. Ballantine, J., Raising competent kids: The authoritative parenting style. Childhood Education, 2001. 78(1): p. 46-47.
  7. Nelson, L.J., et al., Parenting in Emerging Adulthood: An Examination of Parenting Clusters and Correlates. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2011. 40(6): p. 730-43.
  8. Liem, J.H., E.C. Cavell, and K. Lustig, The Influence of Authoritative Parenting During Adolescence on Depressive Symptoms in Young Adulthood: Examining the Mediating Roles of Self-Development and Peer Support. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 2010. 171(1): p. 73-92.
  9. Khodabakhsh, M.R., F. Kiani, and S. Ahmedbookani, Psychological Well-being and Parenting Styles as Predictors of Mental Health among Students: Implication for Health Promotion. International Journal of Pediatrics (2345-5047), 2014. 2(3.3): p. 39-46.
  10. Zahra, J., T. Ford, and D. Jodrell, Cross-sectional survey of daily junk food consumption, irregular eating, mental and physical health and parenting style of British secondary school children. Child: Care, Health & Development, 2014. 40(4): p. 481-491.
  11. Laghi, F., et al., The role of parenting styles and alcohol expectancies in teen binge drinking: A preliminary investigation among Italian adolescents and their parents. Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy, 2013. 20(2): p. 131-139.
  12. Čablov, L., K. Pazderkov, and M. Miovsk, Parenting styles and alcohol use among children and adolescents: A systematic review. Drugs: Education, Prevention & Policy, 2014. 21(1): p. 1-13.
  13. Jabeen, F., M. Anis-ul-Haque, and M.N. Riaz, Parenting Styles as Predictors of Emotion Regulation Among Adolescents. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 2013. 28(1): p. 85-105.
  14. Piko, B.F. and M.Á. Balázs, Control or involvement? Relationship between authoritative parenting style and adolescent depressive symptomatology. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2012. 21(3): p. 149-55.
  15. Alizadeh, S., et al., Relationship between Parenting Style and Children’s Behavior Problems. Asian Social Science, 2011. 7(12): p. 195-200.
  16. Panetta, S.M., et al., Maternal and Paternal Parenting Style Patterns and Adolescent Emotional and Behavioral Outcomes. Marriage & Family Review, 2014. 50(4): p. 342-359.
  17. De la Torre-Cruz, M.J., M.C. García-Linares, and P.F. Casanova-Arias, Relationship between Parenting Styles and Aggressiveness in Adolescents. Relaciones entre Estilos Educativos Parentales y Agresividad en Adolescentes., 2014. 12(1): p. 147-170.
  18. García, F. and E. Gracia, Is always authoritative the optimum parenting style? Evidence from Spanish families. Adolescence, 2009. 44(173): p. 101-31.
  19. Allen, K.R., A conscious and inclusive family studies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 2000. 62(1): p. 4-17.
  20. Wang, H., The Relationship Between Parenting Styles and Academic and Behavioral Adjustment Among Urban Chinese Adolescents. Chinese Sociological Review, 2014. 46(4): p. 19-40.
  21. Afriani, A., et al., The Relationship between Parenting Style and Social Responsibility of Adolescents in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. Pertanika Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities, 2012. 20(3): p. 733-750.
  22. Greenspan, S., Rethinking “Harmonious Parenting” Using a Three-factor Discipline Model, in Child Care in Practice. 2006, Routledge. p. 5-12.
  23. Grolnick, W.S., The psychology of parental control: How well-meant parenting backfires. 2003, Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates. xiii, 182 p.
  24. Lewis, C.C., The effects of parental firm control: A reinterpretation of findings. Psychological Bulletin, 1981. 90(3): p. 547-563.
  25. Smetana, J.G., Parenting Styles and Conceptions of Parental Authority during Adolescence. Child Development, 1995. 66(2): p. 299-316.
  26. Lee, S.M., M.H. Daniels, and D.B. Kissinger, Parental Influences on Adolescent Adjustment: Parenting Styles Versus Parenting Practices. The Family Journal, 2006. 14(3): p. 253-259.
  27. Bean, R.A., et al., The Impact of Parental Support, Behavioral Control, and Psychological Control on the Academic Achievement and Self-Esteem of African American and European American Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Research, 2003. 18(5): p. 523-541.
  28. Prevatt, F.F., The contribution of parenting practices in a risk and resiliency model of children’s adjustment. The British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2003. 21: p. 469-480.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Parenting styles – another look

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Interesting article! It would be helpful if you picked different words other than “authoritarian” and “authoritative.” So many letters are the same and the words are the same length, that I had to read the words several times to tell which one it was. It made it difficult to follow sentences with those words, and to hold the overall thread of your argument.


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  5. Michael Burke says:

    Thanks Graeme for your insightful commentary. I wonder about a guide for parents to navigate that dance between warm & responsive and yet able to set limits and boundaries in the face of testing tween attitude. Can expectations of children differ with their individuality without creating perceptions of inequities between siblings? Managing all the different needs and interests within the family adds to the complexity. I enjoy your writings thanks.


    • Hi Michael, We’re about to trial an Alternatives to Violence Project workshop specifically for parents and one of our main focuses will be authoritative parenting. (We’re probably going to call it active parenting rather than authoritative and it’s similarity in name to authoritarian parenting.) The whole thing of treating siblings fairly is huge isn’t it. I don’t think it means the same, but that might not be how the kids see it. To me that is were it is important to have that warmth and understanding so we can try to see it from our children’s point of view as well.


  6. I really appreciate all of this. Thank you so much for writing this post and giving us all those information.


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