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There Is a Right and a Wrong Way to Parent

A closer look at a well-known concept: parenting styles.

Diana Baumrind was the first psychologist to identify different styles of parenting; Authoritative, Authoritarian, Permissive and their corresponding outcomes. For more than fifty years there have been hundreds of studies examining the efficacy of her model. In 1983, Maccoby and Martin expanded her model to include a fourth parenting style called Rejecting-neglecting, an uninvolved parenting style.

Parental Demandingness and Responsiveness

Baumrind's model was developed by analyzing data using factor analysis. Two factors emerged from the analysis: parental demandingness and parental responsiveness.

Parental Demandingness

Demandingness has to do with parental strictness and control; setting limits, boundaries, expectations, and rules. Salient features of demandingness include confrontation, monitoring, and consistent contingent discipline.

"...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).

Parental Responsiveness

Responsiveness has to do with parental warmth and receptiveness; nurturing, democratic, affectionate, open communication, encourages, and is attuned to needs. Salient features of parental responsiveness include warmth, clear communication, reciprocity, and attachment.

"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).

Four Styles of Parenting

When demandingness/control and responsiveness/warmth are combined (low to high scores); four parental types emerge.

Source: Bredehoft

1. Authoritative

The authoritative parent is one who uses reason, understanding, and warmth when interacting with her child especially when the child has broken a rule or has done something wrong.

The authoritative parent attempts to direct the child's activities in a rational, issue-oriented manner. She encourages verbal give and take, shares with the child the reasoning behind her policy, and solicits his objections when he refuses to conform. Both autonomous self-will and disciplined conformity are valued by the authoritative parent (Baumrind, 1966, p. 891).

Atticus Finch played by Gregory Peck in the movie To Kill A Mockingbird is an authoritative parent. Scout, Atticus's daughter got into a fight at school. While sitting on their porch swing, Atticus calmly discusses the matter with Scout. He says:

First of all... if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

2. Authoritarian

The authoritarian parent is one who uses strict control and discipline to shape his child. When the child breaks a rule or does something that is not in line with the parent's wishes the parent responds quickly and in some cases harshly with punishment. There is little discussion or give and take between parent and child. The communication is oneway; parent to child. According to Baumrind, authoritarian parents are high on demandingness and low on warmth.

The authoritarian parent attempts to shape, control, and evaluate the behavior and attitudes of the child in accordance with a set standard of conduct, usually an absolute standard, theologically motivated and formulated by a higher author (Baumrind, 1966, p. 890).

Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum played by Robert Duvall in the movie The Great Santini is an authoritarian parent. He uses strict discipline with his children. His kids are not happy about moving to a new town and a new base. He sits them down on the front steps of their new house and says:

Meechum: Ok hogs. I've listened to you bellyach about moving to a new town. This said bellyaching will end at 15:30 hours. This bellyaching will not affect the morrale of this squadron henceforth. Do I make myself clear?

Kids: Yes sir!

Meechum: I know it's rough to leave your friends every year. But you are marine kids and can chew nails while other kids are sucking cotton candy!

3. Permissive

The permissive parent is nonpunitive. She lets everything slide and anything goes! The child rules the roost and is the boss. The parent doesn't try to curtail the child's impulses, desires, and actions especially when they break rules or do something wrong. Many permissive parents are trying to be "best friends" rather than the parent to their child.

The permissive parent attempts to behave in a nonpunitive, acceptant, and affirmative manner toward the child's impulses, desires, and actions (Baumrind, 1966, p. 889).

Daniel Hillard played by Robin Williams in the opening scenes of the movie Mrs. Doubtfire is a good example of a permissive parent. The movie opens with barnyard animals running around inside the house as children are bouncing up and down on living room furniture to the tune of Jump Around. A huge fight happens when Sally Field, who plays Miranda Hillard, comes home to find her husband jumping on the living room furniture with the kids. The final image is that of a donkey eating a birthday cake in the living room; a total mess.

4. Uninvolved/Rejecting-neglecting

Uninvolved parents are self-absorbed, detached, and uninterested in parenting. They reject and often neglect their children and the role of parenting. They show little to no warmth and they exert little or no control over their children's' behavior.

Rejecting-neglecting or disengaged parents are neither demanding nor responsive. They do not structure and monitor, and are not supportive, but may be actively rejecting or else neglect their childrearing responsibilities altogether (Baumrind, 1991, p. 62).

Antwone Fisher played by Derek Luke in the movie Antwone Fisher meets his mother some twenty years after she gave him up and as a result experienced physical and sexual abuse in a broken foster child system. His rejecting-neglecting mother played by Viola Davis quietly listens to him as he confronts her rejection:

I use to dream about you. My mother. What you be like. How you look. Your voice, your smile, even your scent. For all these years I wondered about you. I dreamed about you. Didn’t you miss me?

Scientific Evidence Supporting Parenting Styles

A large body of research has been conducted on Baumrind's model investigating the relationship between parenting styles and their outcomes. Below is a summary of the research findings (Darling, 1999; Kuppens & Ceulemans, 2019).

Authoritative Parenting

  • emotional stability
  • adaptive coping patterns
  • positive life satisfaction
  • socially competent
  • lower levels of problem behavior

Authoritarian Parenting

  • poor academic achievement
  • depressive symptoms
  • poorer social skills

Permissive Parenting

  • poor self-control
  • low self-esteem
  • perform less well in school
  • more likely to be involved in problem behavior

Uninvolved Parenting

  • Lacking in self-regulation
  • Lacking in social competence
  • Increase in antisocial behavior and delinquency
  • Increase in anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints

Childhood Overindulgence and Parenting Styles

Many individuals assume that Baumrind's permissive parenting style is synonymous with the overindulgent parent.

Is Baumrind’s “permissive parent” the same as the “overindulgent parent?” We believe not. We assert that not all permissive parents are overindulgent. Baumrind’s (1996) permissive parent type focused on the failure to enforce consistent, age-appropriate limits, which more closely fits the definition of “spoiling” children, whereas, the overindulgent parent type focuses on giving an overabundance of resources to children such as attention, material goods, time, and experiences. These actions meet parental needs, and deprive children of completing their developmental tasks (Bredehoft, Mennicke, Potter & Clarke, 1991).

My next post reports the results from a study that tests the assumption that overindulgence and permissiveness are the same.

Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude

© 2020 David J. Bredehoft


Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907.

Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.

Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent–child interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.) & E. M. Hetherington (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and social development (4th ed., pp. 1-101). New York: Wiley.

Bredehoft, D. J., Mennicke, S. A., Potter, A. M., & Clarke, J. I. 1998. Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences Education, 16(2), 3-17.

Darling, N. 1999. Parenting styles and its correletes. ERIC Digest. ERIC Number: ED427896.

Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting styles: A closer look at a well-known concept. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(1): 168–181. doi: 10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x

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