Tough Love Parenting: Good or Bad? You Decide.

Being a parent is tough. A wide range of parenting styles and multitude of disciplinary strategies exist in parenting that can influence a child’s lifelong development. With that heavy weight on parents’ shoulders, experts in developmental psychology have long studied the myriad ways parents impact their children, for better or for worse and in both the short-term and long-term. Although some children from within the same household can have vastly different characteristics despite being raised by the same parents, developmental psychologists have found some convincing links on the effects that different parenting styles can have on children.

What are the different styles of parenting?

Photo by David Castillo Dominici from

      Photo by David Castillo Dominici from

In a study of more than 100 preschool-aged children in the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind identified four key parenting components used to measure parenting styles. These categorical measurements included: disciplinary strategies, warmth and nurturance, communication styles, and expectations of maturity and control. Based on these qualifications, Baumrind divided parenting methods into three types:

1. Authoritarian Parenting: In authoritarian parenting, parents are not to be questioned. Children follow strict rules, and when rules are disobeyed, children are punished. In this parenting style, “Because I said so” is a common reasoning behind rules parents set for their children, and parents expect their orders to be obeyed without need for explanation. Characteristics of an authoritarian parent include high demands, a low level of responsiveness to their children, and placement of high value on the preservation of order.

2. Authoritative Parenting: Like authoritarian parents, authoritative parents also establish rules and guidelines that they expect their children to follow. However, authoritative parents monitor their children’s conduct on a case-by-case basis, and tend to be more nurturing and forgiving when a child fails to meet their expectations. Authoritative parents are assertive without being highly restrictive, encouraging a dialogue. When children disobey rules or fail to meet expectations, authoritative parents are more likely to employ supportive, nurturing and forgiving responses rather than punitive punishments, and they share the reasoning behind their parenting policies.

3. Permissive Parenting: Permissive parenting is characterized by an indulgence of their child’s every whim, non-confrontation of their child’s disobedience, and acceptance of their child’s impulses, desires and actions. These more lenient parents rarely discipline or make demands of their children, and they allow for a considerable amount of self-regulation among their offspring. They are typically more responsive and manipulative than they are demanding.

Further research by Maccoby & Martin in 1983 later added a fourth parenting style:

4. Uninvolved Parenting: Uninvolved parenting, or neglectful parenting, can run the gamut. In the most extreme of cases, parents reject or neglect the needs of their child, while in other cases, uninvolved parents simply have little communication and low responsiveness to their child. In all cases, the uninvolved parent issues few demands, does not fulfill a child’s basic needs and are altogether detached from their child’s life.

How do parenting styles impact children?

After Baumrind laid the groundwork, further research led to a number of conclusions about the different effects these parenting styles have on children.

Authoritarian Parenting: Children of authoritarian parents were found to be obedient and academically proficient, but they were also more anxious, withdrawn and unhappy emotionally. They often exhibit poor reactions to frustration, were less socially competent, and lacked self esteem.

Authoritative Parenting: Children of authoritative parents were at the greatest advantage, likely because of their ability to internalize the reasons their parents gave them for behaving a certain way, according to Hockenbury and Hockenbury, authors of Psychology. The children of authoritative parents tended to be more lively and happy in disposition, self-confident and capable, and had highly developed social skills and emotional regulation.

Permissive Parenting: Permissive parents tended to lead their children down a path of unhappiness and lack of emotional regulation. Children of permissive parents were more likely to run into problems with the law and perform poorly in school, exhibited more antisocial behaviors, and failed to persist in challenging tasks.

Uninvolved Parenting: The results of uninvolved parenting were predictably dismal. Children of this parenting style ranked lowest in all life domains, including self-control, self-esteem and competency.

Parenting styles differ for many reasons, including the parents’ culture, personality, family size, religion, education levels and socioeconomic status. Even within each family, parenting styles can differ with one parent demonstrating a certain style and the other parent another. Various styles within one household are common, and the spectrum within each parenting style is vast.

Although the links between parenting styles and children’s outcomes are correlated, there is no definitive cause-and-effect relationship that has been established, and more research needs to be done to determine a direct relationship. There is also no parenting style that is impervious to the will and personality of the child, his or her perception of parental treatment, and other external and social factors. Children of authoritative parents can still grow up to be criminals, while children of permissive parents may exude self-confidence and academic success. Results also vary among different racial groups, according to Douglas Bernstein, author of Essentials of Psychology.

While there may not be a single “best” style of parenting, authoritative parenting styles are generally linked to more positive long-term characteristics, such as happiness, success and high self-esteem. This is often attributed to the idea that when a parent’s control appears fair and reasonable, not arbitrary and punitive, children are more likely to internalize the reasoning and comply with the rules. Nurturing, authoritative parents can be a model for their children’s behavior, exhibiting self-control, empathy and emotional regulation by striking the right balance between discipline and warmth.

According to a study of 9,000 households in the UK, parenting style had the greatest influence on the outcomes for kids, not family structure or income level. Parenting styles are not set in stone. They change over time based on experience, mood, children’s needs and parents’ well-being. Children do not fit in a certain mold, and neither do parents. A healthy balance of nurturing love and disciplinary action are most likely to lead to well-adjusted outcomes in your child. Like many things, the outcome of future generations falls into the hands of today’s adults. No matter what parenting style you employ, know that the communication methods and disciplinary actions you use now will likely influence your child’s behavior, happiness and overall success for a lifetime.

So what’s your opinion? Do you favor a tough love approach, or is there a combination of parenting styles that works best for your household?

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