Balancing Control with Support: Why “Authoritative” Parenting is Ideal

If you are a parent, you undoubtedly have heard your fair share of parenting advice (whether solicited or unsolicited). Unfortunately, the advice we encounter is not always helpful. Some say discipline is harmful to children, while others say to rule the home with an iron fist. Some say kids need all the support they can get, while others say it is better to let them figure things out on their own. Still others point out that kids are resilient while using this observation as an excuse to mistreat kids or even ignore them altogether. Amidst this seemingly endless flow of information and opinion, where can parents turn for constructive ideas to help them raise their kids?

One technique that has been heavily researched is a parenting style known as “authoritative.” While this word may have negative connotations for some people, notice in the graphic above that “authoritative” is not the same as “authoritarian.” The key difference is that authoritative parenting entails not only a high level of control but also a high level of support. In other words, an authoritative style of parenting strikes a balance between the necessity of rules and discipline as well as the support and love kids need. 

Below is a summary of these four parenting styles that can emerge based on the balance (or lack thereof) between control and support. (American Psychological Association, 2017):

  • Permissive
    • Low control + high support
    • Parents are warm toward their child but lax when it comes to rules. Lack of limits, little monitoring of activities, low expectation of appropriate behavior.
    • A 2017 article published by the American Psychological Association (APA) states that kids raised with a permissive style “tend to be impulsive, rebellious, aimless, domineering, aggressive and low in self-reliance, self-control, and achievement.”
  • Neglectful
    • Low control + low support
    • Parents are detached and unavailable, resulting in a lack of structure, discipline, and attention to their child’s needs.
    • “Children raised with this parenting style tend to have low self-esteem and little self-confidence and seek other, sometimes inappropriate, role models to substitute for the neglectful parent” (APA, 2017).
  • Authoritarian
    • High control + low support
    • This parenting style is very strict and emphasizes compliance at the expense of a nurturing relationship. Expectations are high and child-responsiveness is low.
    • According to an article published by Michigan State University in 2017, these children may have difficulty with anger management, limited social skills, and low self-esteem.
  • Authoritative
    • High control + high support
    • Parents are supportive, responsive, and nurturing while also setting firm limits. Behavioral “control” involves explaining rules and reasoning with their kids. Remember, listening to a child’s viewpoint does not necessarily mean you are agreeing with it. 
    • According to the APA (2017), “children raised with this style tend to be friendly, energetic, cheerful, self-reliant, self-controlled, curious, cooperative and achievement-oriented.”

It seems fair to say that an authoritative parenting style is the clear winner from this group of four. Like everything else, though, striking the optimal balance between authority and support is easier said than done. That said, it is also doable. Of course, parents need support too! It is okay to seek help and support for yourself, as well. If you’re still reading this article, that is a good start.

Ryan Woods

Ryan Woods, LPC Associate

My goal as a counselor is to help adults, adolescents, and children by providing a space to be heard, process life’s challenges, and develop the necessary skills to thrive mentally, physically, and spiritually. My overall approach to therapy involves cognitive behavioral methods (exploring one’s thoughts and beliefs relative to emotions and behaviors), as well as narrative therapy (engaging personal stories that view people as separate from their problems). I view counseling as a collaborative effort in helping clients to recognize strengths, identify needs, understand conflicts, discover new options, set personal development goals, and make informed choices.

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