3 Parenting Styles Defined: Which Messes Up Kids Most?

Until today, I never would have been able to tell you what kind of parent I am. Sadly, I now know. I am a permissive parent. And my children are pretty much in deep trouble because of it.

A new study out of the University of New Hampshire shows that of the three parenting styles they looked at -- authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive -- only the authoritative parents raise respectful, happy adolescents. Are you surprised? I am not.

The fact is, as they are defined, two of the parenting styles are just plain lazy. Here are the definitions:

  • Authoritative parents: These parents are both demanding and controlling, but they are also warm and receptive to their children’s needs. They are receptive to bidirectional communication in that they explain to their children why they have established rules and also listen to their children’s opinions about those rules. Children of authoritative parents tend to be self-reliant, self-controlled, and content.

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  • Authoritarian parents: These parents are demanding and highly controlling. They are the "my way or the highway" parents and come off as detached and unreceptive to their children’s needs. These parents set rules and expect obedience. Authoritarian parenting produces children who are discontent, withdrawn, and distrustful.
  • Permissive parents: These parents are non-demanding and non-controlling. They tend to be warm and receptive to their children’s needs, but place few boundaries on their children. If they do establish rules, they rarely enforce them to any great extent. These parents tend to produce children who are the least self-reliant, explorative, and self-controlled out of all the parenting styles.

The fact is, it's easy enough to be authoritarian or permissive. Both are really just lazy styles of parenting. Of course, a child is going to be "obedient" if mom or dad beats that idea into them. But are they really going to understand rules and feel them in their bones? Probably not.

It's a disrespectful kind of parenting.

Permissive parenting, on the other hand, is also lazy. It's essentially the parent abdicating all authority in favor of the "easy" road. Why say no to cupcakes before dinner when it will only result in a fit? Unfortunately, although I know I strive to be a benign yet structured authoritative parent, my lazy default is definitely permissive. And the result could be a lack of self-control for my kids. Oops.

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As someone who was raised by permissive parents, I have seen it first hand and I know. But darn it, it's sometimes easier to give in on the issues. My kids push boundaries hard.

Still, this study does give me food for thought. We can all probably use some pointers on how to be a better parent (no matter how perfect we think we are). The fact is, if we want to have happy kids (and teens), we need to be open to the idea that maybe we aren't perfect (gasp!). I'll admit my shortcomings and how I want to be better if you will, too.

What kind of parent are you?




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Procr... Procrastamom

We are Authoritative and I can attest that it has worked well for our family.  Our kids will say that we are strict but fair....they'd probably even say we're fun, as we have a very humourous and happy household.  Our kids, who are 20, 15 & 14, have always had assigned chores (not tied to their allowance.  Allowance is for learning how to budget and handle money) and they are expected to contribute their time for the good of the whole family.  We often get complimented on our children's behaviour and attitudes, so I'd say Authoritative has worked for us.

nonmember avatar Shannon

My parents were authoritative and I am trying to be that way as well. When I was little, I always felt my parents had control of everything and I felt safe and secure. I set rules for my son that I feel are reasonable and allow him a lot of freedom. Sometimes I let things slide and we watch too much TV or something like that, but we're not perfect.


Well I can tell you this is not new, its been studied in child psychology for years! I try to be authoritative, but parenting an aspie who doesn't always understand explanations, will sometimes lead me to be more authoritarian. I would't exactly call permissive and authoritarian lazy, many people do not know how to communicate with children in way they could understand you. This can be taught in parenting classes, comunity college etc. But if you have a child who cannot understand your explanations because of a special need then its a whole other world of parenting, without a category style..lol

femal... femaleMIKE

in theory it makes logical sense.  In real life things arent always so simple. 

femal... femaleMIKE

im not a parent at all and have no clue which I would fit into. 

I just don't believe life is so simple.

MomVs... MomVsBoys

Can a person be somewhere between authoritative and permissive?  I've found over the years that my tolerance for some things is higher than lots of people's.  I have no problem letting the kids have "crazy" time, run, yell, play. However we do have boundaries and rules about acceptable or not acceptable behavior, I guess I'm just a parent who chooses her battles carefully.  Our boys are absolute opposites,  one needs alot of structure and the other is accepting of it but is very good at structuring himself - if he was left completely on his own he'd still have structure &boundaries but needs freedom to make his own choices.  It makes pinpointing my parenting style/type difficult.

Lori Lopez

Parenting styles are not absolute and represent more of a spectrum. I would say your approach to parenting is attentiveness- which is the most important characteristic for a parent to have as it has been show consistently to foster a resilient child.

Source: Several psychology books(Psy grad student)

saree... sareenagreen

Parenting only goes so far. You can teach your child a million things (or not) but in the end, it's up to that individual to choose right from wrong.

katie... katieloves21

i am authoritative. I love my son but he will not be disrespectful. Order and balance is good. I can show love while placing boundaries.

shera... sheramom4

I am all three, depending on the day, the issue, the child, etc. I am happy to give my children plenty of kid time where they can be kids and some things just don't bother me that may bother other people. We also have set rules and guidelines. There are also some things that both my DH and I are just "my way or the highway about." No questions, no negotiation, we are the parents and these are our rules. My parents were the same way, while DH's parents were very permissive.

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