The Psychology Behind Different Types of Parenting Styles

Deciding how to raise their child is a challenge all parents face. Whether raising children alone or with a partner, we all want to do what’s best for our kids, and that can lead to a lot of anxiety when choosing a parenting style to follow. Parenting styles vary from person to person, but a few main categories have been identified by researchers over the years.

In the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind identified three main styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. A fourth style, neglectful, was later added in the 1980s by Stanford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin. Baumrind later wrote an entire book on the authoritative parenting style, which she believed to be the most beneficial, but all four categories remain in place today.

The Four Types of Parenting Styles

The effects of parenting styles on the development as children, and how those effects manifest themselves in adulthood, is still a subject of heavy discussion in the psychology community. It’s hard to measure as those affects are hard to quantify, but there are several generally agreed-upon consequences of each parenting style. We’ll explore the four parenting styles in more detail here and discuss their potential consequences on children raised under them.

Authoritarian

This style is often described as dictatorial and overbearing. These parents respond to any question with, “Because I said so!” and expect to be obeyed without giving a reason. Rules are strict, with no room for interpretation, compromise, or discussion. Punishments for violating rules are severe. In this kind of household, children are rarely given a say in their own lives and are expected instead to obey whatever they’re told to do without question. Punishments are often used to ensure obedience, and affection is given sparingly if at all. This approach can have damaging consequences to a child that can follow them into adulthood. According to therapist and author Alyson Schafer, those consequences include:

  • Developing a “follower” mentality where these children have trouble deciding things for themselves
  • Difficulty discerning right from wrong on their own
  • Low self-esteem and seeking confirmation of their worth from outside authority figures

In addition to the above, authoritarian parenting doesn’t appear to instill lasting lessons; as soon as the parent leaves, the child will often act out. They’ll also often seek guidance from someone other than their parent.

Authoritative

This is generally regarded to be the best parenting style as it provides a balance between structure and independence, allowing a child to grow within reasonable boundaries and explore their abilities. Parents using this style will set strict standard which they expect their children to abide but also support them by providing an emotionally caring environment that fosters trust. This style can be described as “tough but fair” or “firm but nurturing.” A child has room to make mistakes and the freedom to make them without judgement within a structure that provides guidance. Baumrind described authoritative parents like this:

They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible and self-regulated as well as cooperative.

This style can help children:

  • Gain self-assurance
  • Handle responsibility
  • Figure out how to overcome difficulties
  • Become confident in their own judgement

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Permissive

The extreme opposite of the authoritarian parenting style, permissive parents let their children do what they want and don’t implement rules or structure that might make disappoint or upset the child. Descriptions of this style often have the parent trying to act more as a peer or friend to their child, giving in to their wants almost immediately. This can be the result of that parent growing up with an authoritarian parenting style in their own household and not wanting to put their child through it. Being responsive to your child’s needs is great, but the lack of structure and limits can have negative affects long-term. “You end up with either a child who’s entitled or incredibly anxious because there’s no one running the ship,” Schafer said.

Other negative consequences of overly permissive parenting can include:

  • Developing poor emotional control
  • Being overly rebellious and defiant when the child doesn’t get their way
  • Giving up when faced with challenges
  • Engaging in harmful antisocial behavior, like drug and alcohol abuse

Neglectful

Parents who are neglectful, as the category would imply, do not interact much with their children at all. The children are given no rules, structure, or affection and are left largely to fend for themselves. This parenting style, especially when taken to the extreme, can put children in danger and lead to them being removed from the home. This style can also be called “uninvolved parenting.”

Neglectful parents don’t converse or interact with their children much, don’t attend their children’s activities or events and don’t strive for any kind of emotional connection. Even if not physically damaging, the psychological aftermath of this parenting style is serious and can lead to children:

  • Becoming depressed
  • Struggling to form close relationships
  • Having failed relationships
  • Lashing out through delinquent or hostile behavior
  • Cutting themselves off from others

“Neglectful parents . . . raise kids who have attachment difficulties because the bond between child and parent is so fleeting,” said Fran Walfish, a child, parenting and relationship psychotherapist.

Getting Involved

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