Is There A “Right” Parenting Style?


7 Min Read

You’ve probably seen dozens of stories of how issues in adulthood trace back to childhood problems. Some outcomes of nurturing can be more obvious – like a kid with neglectful parents not being achievement-oriented as an adolescent. Or what if someone told you that a child with authoritarian parents can end up being overweight? With your parenting style dictating so much of your child’s future, it feels like you can’t afford to mess up. So which parenting style is best?

Are you a strict and demanding parent who backs the “tough love” approach? Or do you believe in a more democratic approach to bringing up kids, with the child having as much of a say in their lives as you, the adult? Is your style somewhere in between? It can be hard to tell if what you’re doing is right, when as a parent you are constantly second guessing yourself.

A few generations ago, there was no right or wrong way to parent your child. The way each parent chose to bring up their kids was simply the right way! But all that changed as psychologists woke up to the long-term impact of childhood experiences. We learned about the downside of not being sensitive to each child’s unique needs. Parents became more ambitious for their children, with terms like “tiger mom” becoming synonymous with an aggressive parenting style designed to deliver result-oriented, high-achiever kids. The evolution of parenting, the demands on new-age parents, and huge strides in our understanding of the human psyche have all revolutionized the way we look at bringing up our children today. So is there one single “right” way or are there many? And which one is right for you and your children?

What Are The Different Kinds Of Parenting Styles?

There are four broad parenting styles that your approach is likely to fall under.1While you may have followed this style right from when your kids were little, a lot of research focuses on the adolescent stage because that’s when the child becomes more independent and the differences of styles become more obvious.

Authoritative: A warm yet firm parenting style. If you are this kind of parent, you are likely to be someone who encourages their teenager to be independent. Yet, this is not without rules and checks. You probably take their views on things, though it is clear that the final decision and responsibility lie with you.

Authoritarian: The authoritarian parenting style is a more traditional disciplinarian approach where the child/teen is expected to fall in line and do what the parent says without the need for an explanation. To you, following rules is always top priority. It is usually given preference over independent thought and behavior.

Permissive: With permissive parenting, there is an abundance of warmth and indulgence, but also a more passive approach to parenting. The child often has the upper hand and gets to decide what they want to do. If you feel that the best way to keep you adolescent happy is by agreeing to what they want, you’re likely to be this kind of parent. You probably feel your adolescent can take their own decisions and may not be actively involved, but make yourself available when they choose to seek your views.

Uninvolved: An undemanding parenting style that sees minimal interaction between the adolescent and parent. This parenting approach is often criticized as being “neglectful.” Your busy life that simply doesn’t allow any time for being plugged into your teen’s decisions or the feeling that you’ve tried everything and “given up” may lead you to become uninvolved. Frustration or exhaustion can translate into disinterest in where the teen is, what they are doing, how they are doing at school, etc.

What Difference Does Parenting Style Make?

If you’re wondering if this emphasis on understanding parenting styles has been blown out of proportion, consider this. Parenting style can impact everything from your child’s academic achievement to their oral healthcare, chances of developing diabetes, and more.

Academics and Performance: As one study of the four parenting styles found, adolescents whose parents followed an authoritative style had low failure expectation levels and showed less passivity. By contrast, those brought up with neglectful parenting did not have self-enhancing notions and displayed high amounts of task-irrelevant behavior. Researchers concluded that this could have a bearing on the adolescents’ level of academic performance and achievement.2

Weight Problems: Having parents who follow the authoritarian style of parenting could be the reason for a child’s weight gain. One study analyzed data on 872 children, using information from the National Institute of Child Health as well as the Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The children’s height and weight were analyzed at the first-grade level, and those with a BMI of over 95th percentile were labeled overweight. Researchers found that those young children whose parents followed the more strict disciplinarian style of parenting synonymous with the authoritarian approach were more likely to be overweight than other kids. Kids of neglectful or permissive parents too showed a higher risk of being overweight than peers brought up by authoritative parents, but not as much as those with authoritarian parents.3

Social Interactions: According to research, an adolescent with authoritative parents believes that their opinions are valued, is skilled at negotiating, and good at engaging in discussions. They are usually more responsible and socially competent. Teens with authoritarian parents, on the other hand, could turn out very dependent on others for their decisions or may be rebellious and aggressive in their social interactions.

Teens brought up by permissive parents tend to believe that life doesn’t have many rules/boundaries and the fallout or consequences are nothing to worry about. The result? Egocentric tendencies and issues with self-control that could hamper relationships with peers. Adolescents with uninvolved parents too have similar self-regulation problems and may be very impulsive.4

Health: Due to the combination of supportiveness, affection, and guidance a child with authoritative parents gets, they may even be better equipped to manage illness or other health problems. One study reports that such children are better with adhering to a regimen like the ones needed when a child has diabetes. A group of 4- to 10-year-olds, all of whom had diabetes, were evaluated. Those with parents who followed the authoritative style of parenting stuck to the routine needed, allowing for better glycemic control.5 A separate group of researchers evaluated the influence of parental styles on children’s eating and exercise patterns. They found that those whose parents used a positive reinforcement approach, as in authoritative parenting, tended to eat healthier and exercise more. On the flip side, those girls whose parents were highly controlling (as in authoritarian) had a higher chance of eating unhealthy. The sons weren’t as likely to eat unhealthy even with this parenting style.6

One Right Style Or Many?

Clearly, there are marked differences in the four approaches, and you’ve probably already formed an opinion on which one is best. Authoritative parenting is a style that research backs up as one that brings positive developmental outcomes.7 Yet, in real life, it may not be possible to exclusively follow a single style. Most parents tend to adapt as they go along, depending on the situation, and that’s fine too. Research does, however, give fair warning on the potentially harmful effects of certain parenting styles like the uninvolved approach. So it goes without saying that this is one style you should consciously avoid. However, if you find yourself slipping from authoritative to authoritarian on some subjects, or being a little more permissive than normal at times, don’t lose sleep over it.

References   [ + ]

1.Parenting Styles and Adolescents, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University.
2.Aunola, Kaisa, Håkan Stattin, and Jari-Erik Nurmi. “Parenting styles and adolescents’ achievement strategies.” Journal of adolescence 23, no. 2 (2000): 205-222.
3.Rhee, Kyung E., Julie C. Lumeng, Danielle P. Appugliese, Niko Kaciroti, and Robert H. Bradley. “Parenting styles and overweight status in first grade.” Pediatrics 117, no. 6 (2006): 2047-2054.
4.DeVore, Elise R., and Kenneth R. Ginsburg. “The protective effects of good parenting on adolescents.” Current opinion in pediatrics 17, no. 4 (2005): 460-465.
5.Davis, Catherine L., Alan M. Delamater, Kimberly H. Shaw, Annette M. La Greca, Margaret S. Eidson, Jose E. Perez-Rodriguez, and Robin Nemery. “Parenting styles, regimen adherence, and glycemic control in 4-to 10-year-old children with diabetes.” Journal of Pediatric Psychology 26, no. 2 (2001): 123-129.
6.Arredondo, Elva M., John P. Elder, Guadalupe X. Ayala, Nadia Campbell, Barbara Baquero, and Susan Duerksen. “Is parenting style related to children’s healthy eating and physical activity in Latino families?.” Health education research 21, no. 6 (2006): 862-871.
7.Parenting Styles and Adolescents, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.