Advice Column, Parenting

Is there a superior parenting style?

There are many trends in parenting styles that change from decade to decade or even year to year – helicopter parenting, tiger parenting, respectful parenting, attachment parenting… So which one is best? Is there one that is better than others or does it depend on your personal preference?

The jury is in on this one and research confirms over and over again that there is a style of parenting that comes up on top. 

Parenting styles and trends can basically be divided into three broad categories – Permissive, Authoritative, and Authoritarian. I like to think of them as political systems within the home. Permissive is anarchy, Authoritative is democracy, and Authoritarian is dictatorship. Nobody is parenting in one style all the time – we tend to swing between different styles at different times of day (we all know which style comes out at around 5pm!) and we change depending on what we’re dealing with and how much we value compliance in that area. But most people have a predominant parenting style and that’s the one that matters.

Permissive parents have (to a greater or lesser degree) no rules, no boundaries, no structure. The kids rule the roost and the parents find their way in amongst the chaos. Kids needs come first, parents’ needs come last. 

Authoritarian parents are the “my way or the highway” parents. They have strict rules, which are punishable if broken; there is no discussion and no back chat. They run their home more like an army barracks where stepping out of line is simply unacceptable. Here adults come first and kids must fit in.

Authoritative parents have the goldilocks balance. Here kids’ and parents’ needs are equal and are both considered before a decision is made. Everyone is involved in deciding the rules and structure of the home and agrees to abide by this out of respect for each other not out of fear of punishment – like the kind of boundaries we’d create with friends if we lived with a roommate. Expectations are realistic and interactions (even for transgressing a boundary) are kind, respectful and caring.

No great prizes for guessing which parenting style leads to the best outcomes.

Again and again, research into parenting styles shows that Authoritative parenting leads to increased prosocial behavior, success, self worth and cooperation, and leads to decreased drug use, violence and behavioural problems. 

Why? Because an Authoritative parent is primarily concerned with the relationship between themselves and their children. They are modeling acceptable ways of interacting with other human beings, of resolving conflict, of finding ways to get past disagreement. They are showing what it looks like to be respectful and kind and caring and authentic. They are not letting their kids walk all over them, but they are not bullying them into compliance either. They are seeing their children as whole, capable, decent human beings, and children always live up (or down) to our expectations of them.

Would you like to live in an anarchistic society? Or under the rule of a dictator? Or would you rather opt for democracy? Your home is a microcosm of the world and helping to train your children to live in the greater society. Let your home and parenting style reflect what you would choose for yourself in the world.

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