Three Types of Parenting Styles

Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist known for her research on parenting styles, began studying parenting styles nearly accidentally. She was originally interested in the various influences related to self-reliant children.  Baumrind’s conjecture was that if we can identify the influences on self-reliant children, we can encourage them in the environment of grade-school children, leading to greater self-reliance. Among the influences studied were the patterns of communication and discipline from their parents. After identifying a sample of self-reliant students, Baumrind interviewed their parents and found two elements present in how the parents interacted with their children: communication and standards. From this, Baumrind discovered distinct parenting styles based on the high/low level of communication and the high/low level of standards.

Baumrind found that the parents of self-reliant children tended to be high on two dimensions: communication and standards. These parents talk to their children to guide them in their life choices. These parents expect their children to do well in school and in socialization. They emphasize the standards that the child needs to understand in reaching those expectations. Identified as authoritative parents, they express love for the child through communication and standards.

The question then arises: What about parents who are low on one of the dimensions? Some parents have high standards but low communication. Some parents are low in standards, but high in communication. Are these parents less loving than the parents of self-reliant children? What characteristics are common to children of parents low on a single dimension? These questions guided the research that led Baumrind to study parenting styles.

Authoritative Parenting vs. Authoritarian Parenting

Baumrind discovered distinct parenting styles based on the high/low level of communication and the high/low level of standards parents expressed for their children. Besides the authoritative style, there is the authoritarian style and the permissive style. The authoritarian parenting style incorporates high standards but low communication. For these parents, discipline and punishment occur whenever parents think is necessary but it is usually arbitrary. This parenting style can interfere with a young child developing initiative if the child believes that it is wrong to do anything that is not spelled out in rules. The permissive parenting style relies on high communication but lacks in establishing standards. A permissive parent will listen to the child without judging or guiding. Many children of permissive parents are sociable but do not have high academic achievement.

An example of the differences could be made with getting a child to do homework. A parent with any parenting style might say to a child coming home from school “Do your homework before watching television.” How that parent reacts to the child’s protests would illustrate their parenting style. When the child asks, “Do I have to?” the authoritarian parent would reply, “I do not want to hear any of your complaints.” The permissive parent would not argue, instead saying, “OK. Not right now.” The authoritative parent would ask if the child has a good reason to postpone homework. If the child does, the parent will listen to the reason. If not, the parent will take the time to explain that doing homework and setting priorities are important practices. The child of the authoritative parent learns that, if a situation arises where homework should be postponed, the parent will listen.

What influences someone to be an authoritarian parent (instead of an authoritative parent)? There are various reasons. The most probable influence is the parenting style by which the parents were raised. These authoritarian parents are adult children of authoritarian parents following the parenting style that they know best from experience. Many people follow the parenting style of their parents. The child of the authoritarian does not want to make mistakes. When that child grows up to be a parent, he/she does not want to make mistakes as a parent.

Another reason why a parent might be led to follow an authoritarian style is that it is effective when raising children in a high-crime or otherwise dangerous environment. A child in such an environment needs clear rules to follow. Oftentimes, there is little chance to explain the rules (or commands in a crisis) without constantly bringing attention to the dangers of their daily life. In these circumstances, many parents make sure to explain that this strictness is a way of expressing love. Still, a problem will arise when these children grow up to be parents. They remember how their parents raised them. Even if this next generation lives in a safer neighborhood, they follow the behaviors of their parents by becoming authoritarian parents themselves.

According to Baumrind, there are only three identifiable parenting styles based on the level of communication and the level of standards. Some psychology textbooks claim that there should be a fourth parenting style for the parents who have low communication and low standards. That argument would follow logically. However, a parent with low communication and low standards is not really following a “parenting” style. Such an approach is the rejection of responsibility as a parent. Therefore, it is child neglect. The children of neglectful parents are fighting a losing battle. Unless they have some responsible adults in their lives (besides their parents), they cannot have much hope of developing into productive adults. However, children of authoritative parents turn out self-confident while children from authoritarian or permissive parents also develop good qualities.