Parenting Styles

Developmental psychologists have been interested in how parents influence the development of children’s social and instrumental competence since at least the 1920s. One of the most robust approaches to this area is the study of what has been called “parenting style.” Our text defines parenting style, explores four types, and discusses how parenting styles influence the social and emotional development of children.  It is important to note that parenting styles are not the sole influencers in the development and trajectory of a child’s development. They are only one force within a system of forces.

Pause to Reflect!

Discuss the following questions.

  1. Watch The Science Behind How Parents Affect Child Development.
  2. What are your key take-aways from Yuko Munakata’s TED Talk?
  3. Identify how this helps you to understand parenting styles and their effect on the development of children?

Parenting Style Defined

Parenting is a complex activity that includes many specific behaviors that work individually and together to influence child outcomes. Although specific parenting behaviors, such as spanking or reading aloud, may influence child development, looking at any specific behavior in isolation may be misleading. Many writers have noted that specific parenting practices are less important in predicting child well-being than is the broad pattern of parenting. Most researchers who attempt to describe this broad parental milieu rely on Diana Baumrind’s concept of parenting style. The construct of parenting style is used to capture normal variations in parents’ attempts to control and socialize their children (Baumrind, 1991).

Two points are critical in understanding this definition. First, parenting style is meant to describe normal variations in parenting. In other words, the parenting style typology Baumrind developed should not be understood to include deviant parenting, such as might be observed in abusive or neglectful homes. Second, Baumrind assumes that normal parenting revolves around issues of control.

Image of African American father holding his happy toddler son

Parenting style captures two important areas of focus: parental responsiveness and parental demandingness (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Parental responsiveness (also referred to as parental warmth or supportiveness) refers to “the extent to which parents intentionally foster individuality, self-regulation, and self-assertion by being attuned, supportive, and acquiescent to children’s special needs and demands” (Baumrind, 1991, p. 62). Parental demandingness (also referred to as behavioral control) refers to “the claims parents make on children to become integrated into the family whole, by their maturity demands, supervision, disciplinary efforts and willingness to confront the child who disobeys” (Baumrind, 1991, pp. 61- 62).

Table 3.2: Parenting Styles

Demand Level Support (Low) Support (High)
Low Uninvolved Permissive
High Authoritarian Authoritative

According to Baumrind, categorizing parents according to whether they are high or low on parental demandingness and responsiveness creates a typology of four parenting styles: indulgent, authoritarian, authoritative, and uninvolved (Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Each of these parenting styles reflects different naturally occurring patterns of parental values, practices, and behaviors (Baumrind, 1991) and a distinct balance of responsiveness and demandingness.



Table 3.3: Baumrind’s Categories of Parenting

Category Description
Indulgent Indulgent caregivers may also be referred to as “permissive” or “nondirective.”  They “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation” (Baumrind, 1991, p. 62). Indulgent caregivers may be further divided into two types:

  • democratic parents, who, though lenient, are more conscientious, engaged, and committed to the child, and
  • nondirective parents.
Authoritarian Authoritarian caregivers are highly demanding and directive, but not responsive. “They are obedience- and status-oriented, and expect their orders to be obeyed without explanation” (Baumrind, 1991, p. 62). These parents provide well-ordered and structured environments with clearly stated rules. Authoritarian caregivers can be divided into two types:

  • non authoritarian-directive, who are directive, but not intrusive or autocratic in their use of power, and
  • authoritarian-directive, who are highly intrusive.
Authoritative Authoritative caregivers are both demanding and responsive. “They monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. 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” (Baumrind, 1991, p. 62).
Uninvolved Uninvolved caregivers are low in both responsiveness and demandingness. In extreme cases, this parenting style might encompass both rejecting-neglecting and neglectful parents, although most parents of this type fall within the normal range. (Baumrind, 1991).

Parenting styles also differ in the extent to which they are characterized by a third dimension: psychological control. Psychological control “refers to control attempts that intrude into the psychological and emotional development of the child” (Barber, 1996, p. 3296) through use of parenting practices such as guilt induction, withdrawal of love, or shaming. One key difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting is in the dimension of psychological control. Both authoritarian and authoritative parents place high demands on their children and expect their children to behave appropriately and obey parental rules. Authoritarian parents, however, also expect their children to accept their judgments, values, and goals without questioning. In contrast, authoritative parents are more open to give and take with their children and make greater use of explanations. Thus, although authoritative and authoritarian parents are equally high in behavioral control, authoritative parents tend to be low in psychological control, while authoritarian parents tend to be high.

Image of father and teenage son covering his ears

Parenting style has been found to predict child well-being in the domains of social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development, and problem behavior. Research in the United States, based on parent interviews, child reports, and parent observations consistently finds that:

  • Children and adolescents whose parents are authoritative rate themselves and are rated by objective measures as more socially and instrumentally competent than those whose parents are nonauthoritative (Baumrind, 1991; Weiss & Schwarz, 1996; Miller et al., 1993).
  • Children and adolescents whose parents are uninvolved perform most poorly in all domains.

In general, parental responsiveness predicts social competence and psychosocial functioning, while parental demandingness is associated with instrumental competence and behavioral control (i.e., academic performance and deviance). These findings indicate that

  • Children and adolescents from authoritarian families (high in demandingness, but low in responsiveness) tend to perform moderately well in school and be uninvolved in problem behavior, but they have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression.
  • Children and adolescents from indulgent homes (high in responsiveness, low in demandingness) are more likely to be involved in problem behavior and perform less well in school, but they have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression.

In reviewing the literature on parenting style, one is struck by the consistency with which authoritative upbringing is associated with both instrumental and social competence and lower levels of problem behavior in both boys and girls at all developmental stages. The benefits of authoritative parenting and the detrimental effects of uninvolved parenting are evident as early as the preschool years and continue throughout adolescence and into early adulthood. Although specific differences can be found in the competence evidenced by each group, the largest differences are found between children whose parents are unengaged and their peers with more involved parents.

Differences between children from authoritative homes and their peers are equally consistent, but somewhat smaller (Weiss & Schwarz, 1996). Just as authoritative parents appear to be able to balance their conformity demands with their respect for their children’s individuality, so children from authoritative homes appear to be able to balance the claims of external conformity and achievement demands with their need for individuation and autonomy.

Image of mother and son holding hands in the woods with sun rays breaking through the branches

Lemasters and Defrain (1989) offer another model of parenting. This model is interesting because it looks more closely at the motivations of the parent and suggests that parenting styles are often designed to meet the psychological needs of the parent rather than the developmental needs of the child.



Table 3.4:  Lemaster and Defrain’s Model of Parenting

Name Description
  • Will do anything for the child-even tasks that the child should do for himself or herself
  • May use all they do for the child to guilt the child into compliance
  • Child learns to be dependent and manipulative.
  • Wants to be the child’s friend;
  • Lets children do what they want and focuses mostly on being entertaining and fun
  • Sets few limits
  • Children may have little self-discipline and may try to test limits with others.
Police Officer/Drill Sergeant
  • Focuses primarily on making sure that the child is obedient and that the parent has full control of the child
  • May scold or punish child for not doing things right
  • Struggles to allow child to grow and learn to make decisions independently
  • Child may have a lot of resentment towards a parent that they may displace on others.
  • Pays a lot of attention to expert advice on parenting and who believes that as long as all of the steps are followed, the parent can rear a perfect child
  • Puts all responsibility for outcomes on parents
Athletic Coach
  • Helps the child understand what needs to happen in certain situations and encourages and advises the child about how to manage these situations
  • Does not intervene or do things for the child
  • Sets consistent and objective rules
  • Children are supported and guided while they learn firsthand how to handle situations.

Pause to Reflect!

Discuss the following questions.

  1. Which parenting style were you raised in?
  2. If you are a parent now, which style are you? If you are not a parent, which style do you believe you will follow?
  3. How did your caregiver’s parenting style impact you as a child, and as an adult today?
  4. Think about a family’s relationship with a school or community organization.  How might parenting styles impact parental engagement?



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