What's Your "Parenting" Style?

Today is Diana Baumrind’s birthday. She turns 84. I doubt many of you know who Diana Baumrind is, but you should. Especially if you are a parent, a coach, a manager, a teacher, or a leader of an organization.

In the late 1960’s, Diana became famous in the world of developmental psychology for her research on parenting styles and the impact they had on the development of children. For the first time, there was hard evidence of the cause-and-effect links between the actions of a parent and the future behavior of their children. Evidence that, over time, has continued to hold up under scrutiny with few modifications. Baumrind suggested that most parents exhibited one of three parenting styles:

Authoritarian - “My way or the highway”. Children are expected to follow strict rules set by the parent, without question and without resistance. Failure to do so usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents almost never explain the reasons behind their rules and adopt a “Because I said so.” attitude. They are usually very rigid and harsh in their demands, and often unresponsive to the needs or questions of the children.

Permissive - Permissive parents make very few demands of their children or recant those demands when the child pushes back. Often considered indulgent or lenient, they rarely exhibit discipline and are typically responding to their child’s demands or behavior. Many permissive parents coddle their children, relieving them of their responsibilities.  A permissive parenting style often conveys an image that the child has more power than the parent.

Authoritative - Similar to Authoritarian parents in that they establish rules and guidelines and expect their children to follow them. But the similarities end there. These parents are responsive to their children’s needs and listen to their questions. There is more give and take. They are firm, but not rigid, explain the reasons behind their actions, and are flexible when the situation warrants it. Authoritative parents are more nurturing and supporting, rather than domineering and punishing.

A fourth parenting style was added in the 1980’s (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).

Neglectful- These parents have few to no requirements of their children, are not responsive, and have little to no communication with them. They provide basic needs, but nothing else and are generally detached from the child’s life.

Obviously, there are degrees to each of these behaviors that a parent may exhibit, but what was important about Diana Baumrind’s research was not just the identification of the various parenting styles, but the effect those styles had on the development of children.

  • Authoritarian parenting styles generally lead to children who are obedient and proficient, but rank lower in happiness, social competence and self-esteem.
  • Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and self-regulation. These children are more likely to experience problems with authority, following social norms, and feeling like they “fit in.”
  • Authoritative parenting styles tend to result in children who are happy, capable, socially adept and successful.
  • Neglectful parenting styles rank lowest across all life domains. These children tend to lack self-control, have low self-esteem and are less competent than their peers.

There have been several studies recently showing that these styles and their outcomes are not limited to the interactions between actual parents and children, but apply to all of our “guardian” relationships, including teachers and students, coaches and players, as well as managers and employees. It seems that we are authoritarian, permissive, authoritative, and neglectful outside of our home, as well.

Today is Diana Baumrind’s birthday. A good day to think about the kind of “parent” you are, and an even better day to consider the kind of long-term impact your style is having on those in your care.  Making them feel happy and fulfilled or crushing their self-esteem and confidence. As you walk into your classroom, onto your field and gymnasium floor, or into your office, remind yourself of the power you have to change your “children’s” future - not only for the better, but perhaps for the worse.

James Kane