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Authoritarian Parenting Style

Angry teen boy

The authoritarian parenting style is one of four psychologist-recognized parenting styles. How you parent your kids today will have lasting effects on your children's self-esteem, independence, and behavior. Are you an authoritarian parent?

Parenting Styles Primer

In 1967, psychologist Diana Baumrind studied 100 children, questioning children and parents as well as observing interactions between the two. As a result of her study, Baumrind identified three distinct parenting styles. Several years later, a fourth style was identified. Categorization of parenting style revolved around two factors: responsiveness (of parents) and demand (of parents). Each parenting style is characterized by the level of demands a parent makes on their child, and their level of responsiveness to their child's wants and needs.

The four parenting styles are:

  • Permissive (low demand, high response)
  • Authoritative (high demand, high response)
  • Uninvolved (low demand, low response)
  • Authoritarian (high demand, low response)

Authoritarian Parenting Style

Characterized by a high level of demand and a low level of responsiveness, the authoritarian parenting style is often autocratic. Authoritarian parents typically set strict limits for their children and enforce them regardless of any surrounding circumstances. Most authoritarian parents feel they set firm limits because they love their children and that this type of parenting is the only way to keep their kids out of trouble. Misbehavior frequently leads to punishment. In many cases, authoritarian parents may not recognize why they set the rules they do, and punishment for infringement of these rules is not always equal to the gravity of the misbehavior.

Authoritarian parents hold their children to high standards, both in achievement and in behavior. Focus is often placed on accomplishments rather than effort put forth, and the desire for discipline may override all other aspects of the relationship. These demands come at the expense of warmth and connectedness.

Characteristics of Authoritarian Parents

While every parent is different, some or all of the following characteristics have been linked to authoritarian parents. To identify this parenting style, note that authoritarian parents may do the following things:

  • When asked why a rule exists, parents might say "because I said so," or "because I'm your mom."
  • Often have a list of rules to be followed
  • Do not pick their battles. Instead, rigidly maintain rules no matter what
  • Demonstrate a lack of flexibility
  • Stress cleanliness, orderliness and timeliness to the extreme. Even a slight deviation from a high standard may result in punishment out of proportion with the infraction.
  • May withhold the expression of love if they disapprove of a child's behavior
  • Often reinforce male/female stereotypes
  • May require behaviors of their children that they do not require of themselves
  • Focus on approval and how others view them
  • May threaten violence or harsh punishment if rules are not followed
  • Expect perfection
  • Only show approval when children perform exactly as expected
  • Believe that parents hold all of the power; kids are virtually powerless

Popular Culture

If you have ever seen The Sound of Music, then perhaps you will recall Captain Von Trapp's parenting style at the beginning of the movie, when he expected his children to behave with military precision. This an example of authoritarian parenting.

Effects on Children

While children from authoritarian families are often well-behaved, the behavior is frequently driven by fear rather than by any sense of self-control or self-discipline. Studies show that children who live with authoritarian parents are less likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors such as taking drugs or not wearing a seat belt while they live in their parents' homes. Various surveys and studies, however, also report the downsides of being raised in an authoritarian home:

  • Children of authoritarian parents report that they don't feel accepted by their peers more frequently than do children raised by authoritative and permissive parents.
  • Experts rate children of authoritarian parents as less self-reliant than those raised in authoritative or permissive homes.
  • Teachers in a Beijing, China survey rated children from authoritarian homes as less socially competent and more aggressive than their peers.
  • A 2009 study suggested that middle-aged adults who reported having a childhood with authoritarian parents were more likely to experience depression and poor psychological adjustment throughout life.
  • Some studies report a correlation between authoritarian parenting and decreased achievement in school.

While many adults' personalities lend themselves easily to becoming authoritarian parents, the evidence shows that this parenting style has its drawbacks. While authoritarian parenting may result in fewer risk-taking behaviors in the short term, long term mental health, happiness, and self-reliance may be compromised.

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Authoritarian Parenting Style