“They monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative”.
Diane Baumrind, who was the first to define the authoritative parenting style, identified three distinct parenting styles. The styles were authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. Later, a fourth, negligent parenting, was added to acknowledge that unfortunate reality. Although her ideas were introduced in the 1960’s, they remain relevant today.
Characteristics of Authoritative Parenting
According to Baumrind, authoritative parents are characterized by their emphasis on setting high standards while being responsive and nurturing. Parental respect of their children as rational human beings on a journey towards eventual independence is also an important distinguishing feature.
One of the primary goals of any style of parenting is to achieve a balance between freedom and responsibility. Authoritative parents encourage verbal reasoning and even debate, set clear standards of good behavior and explain the consequences of bad behavior. They are also more likely to use a system of rewards, such as praise, for good behavior, than use punishments such as shaming or withdrawal of affection for misbehavior. This system of behavior management based on explaining not just the rules, but the reasons for them and the consequences for breaking them, has been called “inductive discipline”.
One comprehensive guide Authoritative parenting, written by Robert E. Larzelere received mixed reviews as being overly academic, but inspired other parenting books. Some of those books use the term “mindful discipline” , rather than “inductive discipline”, but both are similar and serve as the foundation of authoritative parenting.
All styles of parenting differ according to the country and culture in which they are practiced. For instance, a 1996 study that included parents from four different countries including China and Russia found that parents that would otherwise be considered authoritative in style didn’t consider their children’s input when making plans for the family. Otherwise authoritative Chinese parents also did not encourage their children to voice opinions that were not in agreement with their own. Despite some cultural differences, there was one consistent factor among all authoritative parents in all four countries. They all reasoned with their children.
Benefits and Difficulties of Authoritative Parenting
Evidence suggests that the process of inductive discipline used in authoritative parenting helps children develop empathy, resulting in their becoming more kind and helpful. It is also believed that it provides them with moral reasoning skills. Children with authoritative parents were shown to be more popular with, yet less easily influenced by, their peers.
Another positive aspect of this parenting style is that children experience a sense of security in knowing what is expected of them, even if those expectations are somewhat high. Feeling free to voice their opinions and ask questions helps them develop the negotiating skills that adulthood often requires, especially within the middle class. Parents basing their expectations on the age and abilities of the child results in less likelihood of failure and a greater sense of confidence and mastery. Responsibilities are added incrementally when mastery of the individual skills required to assume them have been acquired. Finally, a benefit for the parents is that their children will be more likely to obey them out of respect than out of fear.
One of the difficulties of this parenting style is that it can be time-consuming. In households with two working parents, finding the time to explain the potential long-term benefits of having a tidy room can be extremely challenging. Some children are more headstrong than others, so maintaining the goal of having children cooperate voluntarily rather than merely following orders can sometimes require an almost superhuman level of patience. Finally, the rules require frequent modification to accommodate changes in the children’s ages and abilities.
Although many experts have conducted studies that conclude that Authoritative parenting results in a number of positive outcomes, establishing the right balance of nurturing and discipline can be difficult. It can be even more difficult to maintain, since both children and adults continue to grow and needs continue to change.
Despite the difficulties, it seems that that consensus is that the rewards of contributing to raising thoughtful, confident, kind and helpful human beings is well worth the extra effort.