Highlight reel (TL;DR)
- Which parenting style is most encouraged in modern America? The answer is likely authoritative — in which parents set clear expectations and boundaries while also providing empathy, warmth, and affection.
- Authoritative parenting is associated with positive child development outcomes, including higher self-esteem and academic achievement.
- On the other hand, other parenting styles, including the rigid, controlling authoritarian style, are associated with negative outcomes.
If you’re a parent, you might wonder how your parenting style aligns with what the experts say.
Or, if you’re preparing to be a new parent, you may want to make sure you raise your child in a way that will support their development.
You’ve likely had friends or loved ones who’ve experienced difficult situations with their parents that led to negative mental health and behavioral outcomes — or you’ve experienced them yourself.
Certain behaviors in parents are associated with negative mental health outcomes in their children that can last into adulthood, research says.
So how can you help your child thrive instead? Learning more about parenting styles can help you develop your own parenting philosophy.
Read on to find out more about what the research says about parenting styles, including authoritative — the parenting style most encouraged in modern America.
Which parenting style is the most encouraged in modern America?
Parenting authorities from across the United States — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Psychological Association (APA) — widely recommend approaches to parenting that fall under the definition of authoritative parenting.
For example, the CDC provides resources that help parents:
- communicate positively
- set rules and creating structure for their kids
- give clear instructions
- implement consistent consequences and discipline
Discussions about parenting styles in the media can be confusing because many styles overlap and focus on different things, but are essentially similar. Here are a few styles of parenting you might have heard of that overlap with authoritative parenting:
- Attachment parenting. Emphasizes developing a close bond with your child by being very emotionally responsive and keeping close physical contact, like with co-sleeping and baby wearing.
- Gentle parenting. Promotes developing a close, empathetic, and warm relationship with your child so that they are motivated to cooperate with you.
- Positive parenting. Focuses on praising positive behaviors rather than using criticism to reinforce desired behaviors.
Where they came from
In the 1960s, clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind proposed that parenting styles could be separated into three general categories: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.
Experts later identified neglectful or uninvolved parenting as a fourth style.
Here are the four basic parenting styles experts recognize today.
There are many other parenting philosophies and programs out there, but they generally fit into these four categories.
For example, positive parenting, gentle parenting, and attachment parenting fit under the authoritative umbrella.
And tiger parenting is a style that may fit under authoritarian parenting.
What is the best parenting style?
Research has shown, and experts widely agree, that an authoritative parenting style is best for children’s health, well-being, and life outcomes.
The 4 essential parenting styles, explained
People continue to debate nature versus nurture. Research shows that 46% of parents believe their children’s successes and failures reflect how they’re doing as parents; 42% of parents believe that parenting has little to do with whether a child succeeds in life.
But while parents may have different opinions on the topic, experts widely believe that parenting plays a crucial role in child development and behavior.
Here’s what each parenting style looks like, and the outcomes it’s associated with.
If you have an authoritative parenting style, you manage your child’s behavior when needed, but you’re also responsive, affectionate, and understanding — validating the child’s experiences and allowing them to express their feelings with you. You set clear boundaries with your kids and stick to them.
You have a warm, close, nurturing relationship with your child, and they’re more likely grow up to be confident, responsible, and able to self-regulate. Your child is more likely to have high self-esteem and know they can accomplish goals on their own.
Example: It’s time to leave the playground, and your child doesn’t want to go. You might respond with something like, “I understand it’s hard to leave when you’re having fun. We have to go now because it’s time for dinner. Let’s make a plan together for when we can come back.”
Outcomes: Authoritative parenting is associated with positive development outcomes in children, including emotional well-being, self-esteem, and academic success.
Authoritative and authoritarian styles may have very similar names, but they’re very different in practice.
Parents with an authoritarian style are highly demanding and exercise rigid control over their children. They tend to show less affection and exercise a one-way mode of communication, essentially telling the child, “You’ll do as you’re told.”
Children who receive this type of parenting are typically well-behaved and can follow instructions well, but might also be shy, uncomfortable or unsure in social situations, and struggle to make decisions for themselves.
Example: It’s time to leave the playground, and your child doesn’t want to go. An authoritarian way of responding would sound something like, “It’s time to go now. If you don’t listen, then you’ll be in trouble.”
Outcomes: Authoritarian parenting is associated with aggression, anxiety, and problematic behaviors in children.
This type of parenting, sometimes called “indulgent parenting,” is on the opposite end of the spectrum to authoritarian.
Parents who use a permissive style make few demands and set few rules, or allow them to be broken without consequence. They may be very responsive and affectionate but don’t set or maintain boundaries. Parents may allow their children to get what they want even if it’s harmful to themselves or someone else.
The child may have good self-esteem and social skills but may be impulsive and be less likely to do things for others. Giving them a high level of freedom can lead to harmful habits.
Example: It’s time to leave the playground, and your child doesn’t want to go. Even though you know that if you stay, your child will end up going to bed too late to get a good sleep, you might respond to their protests with something like, “OK, we can stay longer.”
Outcomes: Permissive parenting is associated with anxiety, depression, withdrawn behavior, physical complaints, and behavior issues at school.
Curiously, it’s also associated with higher self-esteem. However, research suggests this may be related to the responsive and affectionate aspects of this parenting style, and may not occur in children who experienced a lack of boundaries without as much emotional warmth from their parents.
More research is needed to tease apart these effects.
A neglectful or uninvolved parent makes few demands, exercises little control, shows little affection, and doesn’t communicate often. Your child may be resilient and self-sufficient out of necessity, but they may also have academic and social challenges and difficulty controlling their emotions.
A neglectful parenting style typically isn’t a conscious choice but rather a consequence of circumstances preventing a parent from bonding with their child.
Outcomes: Neglectful parenting is associated with a lack of emotional intelligence and social responsibility and is connected to anxiety and depression.
What factors can influence your parenting style?
Many factors can influence your parenting style, research has found.
- physical characteristics
- attachment history with your own caregivers
- mental health
- marital relationship
- family’s financial situation
- familial life events
- family stress
Environmental factors, including:
- your neighborhood and surrounding community
- your ethnicity
- your culture
For example, a single parent who works long hours to support her children may find it difficult to take as much time to establish an emotional with her children amidst the everyday tasks the family requires to stay afloat.
Your stress level impacts your parenting style, which can affect your child’s behavior. And the reverse is true, too.
Parenting can also be situation-dependent. Most parents lean into one parenting style but, at different moments, may adjust their parenting styles, often unconsciously.
For example, you may usually use an authoritative parenting style and communicate calmly and warmly with your child, but if your child is doing something dangerous, you may take an authoritarian stance and yell to immediately stop the behavior.
Parenting styles and culture
Culture and ethnicity play a big role in determining your parenting style. Culture influences parenting style, and parenting style, in turn, influences and preserves culture.
It makes sense that different parenting styles are more or less popular in other parts of the world and that different cultures within the same society might adopt various parenting styles.
Research shows that cultural parenting rules can be so powerful that parents will often act on them, setting aside what their instincts tell them about their own children.
For example, people in some cultures have traditionally believed infants cannot understand language before developing the ability to speak, so they don’t talk to their babies.
But research has shown that infants do understand language well before they speak, and greatly benefit from being spoken to frequently.
However, not all experts agree that Baumrind’s parenting styles apply across cultures.
The final word
Parenting scholars maintain that the authoritative parenting style is the best.
Children brought up with an authoritative parenting style tend to be more confident and successful.
If you want to practice authoritative parenting, consider how you can:
- validate your child’s feelings
- stay calm and provide comfort when they’re upset — co-regulating their emotions
- set clear expectations for your children and stick to them (that is, set and maintain boundaries)
- explain the reasoning behind your choices
- maintain open two-way communication
- be present and affectionate
Authoritative parenting isn’t always the easiest parenting option. It takes a lot of work and consistency, even when you’re feeling tired or upset. But it’s the most likely to lead to positive benefits now and down the road.