The Impact of Parenting Styles

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Watching a young girl hit, kick, and call her mother names I never imagined a 6 year old knew, engaged in an (ultimately successful) attempt to get dessert led to an enlightening luncheon conversation with a few friends last week. As parents ourselves, we had all dealt with incidents like this and had different opinions on how the mother should have handled the outbreak. As we talked, it turns out we represented the three most common parenting styles identified during the last 30 years of psychological research. What seems to matter the most is the level of parental demandingness and parents being responsive to their children's changing needs.

One end of our table clearly represented the Authoritarian parenting style, parents with clearly defined rules that they expected their children to follow without questioning or even discussion. Known as the really strict parents, authoritarian parents hold high expectations for their children and believe that parents are, and should be, in complete control. According to Diane Baumrind (1996), who developed the original parenting style categories, these parents "shape, control and evaluate the behavior and attitudes of the child in accordance with a set of standards of conduct, usually an absolute standard . . . [which] values obedience as a virtue and favors punitive, forceful measures to curb self-will" (p. 890).

At the other end of the parenting continuum, exhibited by the young girl's mother as well as a friend at the other end of the table, are Permissive parents. Such parents place few, if any demands on their children, allowing children "complete freedom to make life decisions without referring to parents for advice . . ." (Hickman, Bartholomae, & McKenry, 2000, p. 42). Permissive parents allow the "child to regulate his own activities as much as possible, avoid the exercise of control" (Baumrind, 1966, p. 889), often those parents who view themselves as their children's friends or peers more than the parent-child relationship.

Sitting in the middle of the table were the Authoritative or Democratic parents, who are an integration of the other two parenting styles, setting clear rules and expectations but also encouraging discussion and give-and-take, especially as their children get older and are able to take more responsibility for themselves. Such parents "remain receptive to the child's views but take responsibility for firmly guiding the child's actions, emphasizing reasoning, communication, and rational discussion in interactions that are friendly as well as tutorial and disciplinary" (Baumrind, 1996, p. 410).