The authoritarian parenting style consists of when the parent/guardian disciplines a child in a strict manner with little to no leeway for the child’s personal voice or freedom. Now, while this definition of an authoritarian parent may seem harsh, it comes with many benefits, among them are the child’s sense of respect and caution toward those in charge. However, what many psychologists find in authoritarian parenting is that the relationship with the child is formalized as opposed to friendly and this can lead to feelings of separation and caution toward one’s parents. Now, authoritarian parenting contrasts with permissive parenting which involves letting the child have his/her way the vast majority of the time and having a friendlier and less disciplined relationship to your child. However, authoritative parenting falls between the two, and is often considered by most psychologists to be the best of the parenting styles, however, we will come back to that later.
To figure out which parenting style you fall under, or wish to fall under, I will describe three scenarios between a parent and a child. Next, you will ask yourself: which situation did the parent deal with their child’s actions in the most constructive way? It is important to note that harsher does not necessarily mean more constructive because children tend to shy away from those who make them feel lowly or unheard.
- Scenario 1: Lucy and her brother Matthew were playing outside when their mother told them to come in. The children told their mother that they wished to play for a few more minutes and the mother agreed. After some time had passed, the mother tells Lucy and Matthew that it is now definitely time to come in because it will soon be dark. The children whine and shout that they want to play still. Tired from the day, the mother tells her children that they can play a little longer. The children only decide to come in because they are hungry, so the mother feels that at least the children are inside even if they did not obey and kept trying to get their way.
- Scenario 2: Bruce is a model student and always does his homework when he gets home from school. However, today, he took a nap after getting home and forgot, which resulted in him going to school the next day with an incomplete homework assignment. Now, while the teacher let this slide because of Bruce’s pristine academic record, Bruce’s father finds his behavior unacceptable and grounds Bruce for a month. While Bruce finds this unfair and dramatic, Bruce’s father believes that if his son wavers then he will not get into a good school and his future will be ruined and that he is doing his best to make sure his son gets into an outstanding college.
- Scenario 3: Samantha has never broken curfew before; however, because she was out with her friends and lost track of time, Samantha came home thirty minutes after her allotted time. This led to her parents worrying about her well-being because Samantha forgot to call. When Samantha returns, her parents are angry, and Samantha understands why. However, instead of grounding Samantha, they tell her that next time if she is late to make sure to call to let them know she is safe; however, they let her know that if she breaks curfew again, they will be forced to be harsher on her.
These three scenarios represent the three parenting styles. Did you guess which is which?
The answers are Scenario 1: Permissive Parenting, Scenario 2: Authoritarian Parenting, and Scenario 3: Authoritative Parenting. In the first scenario, the mother lets the children do what they want, however, she is aware of them and makes an effort to discipline but does not follow through; this is what makes it different from uninvolved parenting (the fourth parenting style). In scenario 2, the parent is being extremely harsh on a habitually obedient child because of a single, and somewhat small, mistake, however the parent feels that even a small mistake could damage the child’s future. In the last scenario, even though the parents were mad at the child, they realized that their child has never disobeyed her curfew, and therefore, gave her another chance to redeem herself with the warning of a harsher disciplinary action if she does it again.
While different, these three parenting styles all have their benefits and disadvantages, and when it comes to authoritarian parenting, it can seem understandable why it may seem inopportune to have such a formal relationship with your child. Most parents want their children to feel as though he/she can come to them for help and guidance without being judged, and to many parents who are not authoritarian, this may seem impossible for an authoritarian parents. However, many authoritarian parents and psychologists see many benefits in this parenting style.
The Benefits of Authoritarian Parenting
- Enhanced Safety
- Clear Standards
- Respect for Authority
- Learn to follow orders
There are several advantages to authoritarian parenting, among them are listed above. Many authoritarian parents believe that teaching the child to become a respectful and responsible citizen comes before a more intimate relationship with your child. A common authoritarian parenting phrase is that they are their child’s “parent not friend,” and although this may seem harsh to many, it does set a boundary of authority over your child.
The child learns that there is a standard that must be met and that they must follow their parent’s orders or else there will be repercussions, which prepares them for later in life. However, what are you really causing by being more of a boss to your child than someone for them to come to when they are in need of guidance or sympathy?
The Disadvantages of Authoritarian Parenting
- Fear/ Anxiety
- Lack of Love or Acceptance
- Lost Opportunities for Guidance
- Low Self-esteem
Children long for understanding and comfort, and these are some of the disadvantages of authoritarian parenting. The child does not feel the same willingness to go to an authoritarian parent because they may feel judged, and this may lead them to hide things from their parents that could be dangerous to themselves or others. They also may feel as though they can never meet their parent’s standards which may lead to feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, and even depression. The child might also feel a lack of love or acceptance in their relationship with their parents because they are constantly being told what to do, how to do it, and nothing else is acceptable. Also, making mistakes may make the child anxious toward their parent for fear of being punished for even the smallest of mistakes.
So, while authoritarian parenting has its benefits, it also has some major disadvantages. What psychologist recommend is an authoritative parenting style, a middle ground between being too strict and not strict enough.
Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting Styles
While an authoritarian parent might have strict rules and requirements for their child, the authoritative parent has standards. Authoritarian parents may say “because I said so” while the authoritative parent explains why they are asking a child to do something. Authoritative parenting takes the benefits of the authoritarian parents—such as discipline, respect, and order—and mixes it in with the positive permissive parenting style—friendly relationship with child, acceptance, and communication. Look at how you can change an authoritarian parenting style into an authoritative one without losing your sense of authority but also without the child feeling powerless:
Authoritarian: Trent is told to clean his room right now because there are guests coming later in the day, but he waits until the last minute and barely has time to finish his room. You are angry with him because his room is not as clean as it could have been if he had cleaned it when you told him. You take away his XBOX although he usually obeys what you say, resulting in Trent feeling animosity toward you.
Authoritative: …You are angry with him because his room is not as clean as it could have been if he had cleaned it when you told him. You tell Trent that you are happy he cleaned his room, but next time if he does not clean his room when you tell him to than he will have to clean the garage on the weekend instead of going out. Trent may feel angry at the warning, but it is now up to him to make the choice of disobeying you again and he knows the repercussions if he does not.
Knowing your Child
Knowing your child is vital in deciding which parenting style fits him/her best. It is more important to decide which style fits your child rather than which one fits you. For some children, harsher punishment and stricter rules may be needed. However, for others, you may trust them to make their own decisions and do not need to coddle them as much to get them to do something. The situation also matters as well. In some smaller situations, being too strict can do much more harm than good. However, if the child breaks a bigger rule, it may be sufficient to have a stricter punishment. It is important to balance out how you parent—to be not too strict, but also not too lenient. You must let your child know that you are in charge without making your child feel powerless and fearful of you.