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Parenting Styles: Which is Linked to the Best Outcomes in Kids?

By Emily Hanlon

As most of you know, I am expecting my first child in May 2019. Whenever I speak to first-time mums about parenting, the most common thing I hear is: ‘the day you leave the hospital is crazy. They just tell you you’re ready to go and be a parent, but you feel like you literally have no idea what you are going to do once you get home!’ It seems as though, as ‘prepared’ as you are, nothing prepares you for holding a child in your arms and being completely responsible for their upbringing.

Psychological research tells us that there are four main parenting styles that are commonly used by parents. These parenting styles were first noted by Baumrind, who reported that pre-school aged children displayed very different types of behaviour, with each being highly related to a specific parenting style. Baumrind theorised that there is an extremely close relationship between parenting styles and children’s behaviour, which can lead to different outcomes in these children’s lives. Baumrind initially identified three different parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting. In 1983, Maccoby and Martin expanded the permissive parenting style into two separate styles: permissive and neglectful parenting, giving us our four parenting styles.

This research has shown us a number of things. Firstly, that genetics and environment have EQUAL influence over human traits. This means that a child’s genetic factors are 50% responsible for their outcomes in later life, however the environment a child grows up in is also 50% responsible for their outcomes in later life. So, let’s take a deeper look into each parenting style.

Authoritarian Parenting:

Authoritarian parents are described as extremely strict and controlling. They have a strong need for obedience and believe that children should follow all clearly stated rules that parents implement. If their children do not follow these rules and behave as required, they are punished. These parents do not appreciate being challenged in any way and a reciprocal conversation to reach ‘middle ground’ in an argument or discussion is strongly discouraged. These parents are unresponsive to suggestions made by their children and have very high expectations of their children. This parenting style is associated with lower academic performance, low self-esteem, poor social skills, mental health concerns, drug and alcohol use, and teenage delinquency.

An authoritarian parent may say ‘NO! and if I ever catch you going there without my permission, you are in big trouble, you WILL be punished.’

Authoritative Parenting:

Authoritative parents keep authority and control within the home; however, these parents tend to be warmer and more communicative than authoritarian parents are. Authoritative parents prefer to seek a balance between their children’s desire for independence and their own desire to be listened to and respected. These parents are demanding, but responsive. They are assertive without being intrusive or restrictive. Although both authoritarian and authoritative parents have high expectations for their children, authoritative parents encourage more freedom of personal expression which helps them develop a sense of independence. These children therefore tend to develop into more well-adjusted and competent adults than children raised using other parenting styles, resulting in the best-adjusted children out of the four parenting styles.

An authoritative parent may say ‘I don’t want you to go there right now without an adult, but why don’t you and I go down and check it out. If everything looks ok, then maybe you can go later with your friends. How does that sound?’

Permissive Parenting:

Permissive parents can be warm and accepting but make very few demands on their children. They are lenient and tend to avoid confrontation with their children, allowing (some may argue) too much self-regulation. These parents may have concerns about not wanting to diminish a child’s creativity of sense of independence/self. These parents are responsive, but not demanding. Permissive parents tend to be confused about how they should parent. Some tend to try too hard to be their child’s ‘friend’ and end up giving their children anything they ask for in the hope of having a strong relationship with their child. Other permissive parents seem to over-compensate for what they lacked in their own childhoods. Perhaps they grew up in poverty or with authoritarian parents themselves and are wanting to give their children the freedom and material items they lacked in their own childhoods. Furthermore, some permissive parents do so conditionally. They will give the child whatever he/she desires provided that they are adhering to specific demands of the parent (i.e., good grades = new XBOX). Children of permissive parents tend to engage in more impulsive behaviour, have difficulties navigating adult relationships, and tend to be more egocentric. A permissive parent may say ‘sure thing! Have fun!! Try to be careful!’

Neglectful Parenting:

Neglectful parents demand close to nothing from their children and give close to nothing in return. These children are allowed to do whatever they desire and at its worse, can lead to extreme neglect. Children raised by neglectful parents tend to engage in impulsive behaviour, use drugs/alcohol, and have an extremely high rate of mental illness and suicide attempts.

A neglectful parent may say ‘whatever.’

So, which style is best? Authoritative parenting has been consistently linked to the most positive outcomes in children across several studies. Many people argue that ‘all kids are different’ and require different parenting styles. This is considered incorrect. While different children may require different parenting strategies, they do not require a different parenting style.

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