Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all newborns came with an instruction manual? As first-time parents, we have so many questions and just as many worries about how to best take care of our babies. These worries do not end as babies progress to toddlers.
We research different parenting styles and ask our friends who have been there before us what their recommendations are. If you’ve Googled “Parenting Styles”, you know there is an information overload on this subject.
Let’s talk about two parenting strategies that get a lot of attention in the media these days: authoritarian and authoritative. What are they and is one more effective than the other?
Both of these parenting styles have at their base the notion of “control.” But they are vastly different in how each exerts control over the child.
Authoritarian uses punishment and one-sided directives as a means of teaching; authoritative uses the idea of teaching a child to discern right from wrong as a means of imparting life-lessons.
In these ways, one could say that authoritarian parenting uses an outside force to shape a child, and authoritative parenting teaches a child to develop their inner sense of what is right and positive to help them become healthy members of society.
Both styles rely on parental figures as guides, but in vastly different ways.
Authoritarian parenting is parenting from an autocratic standpoint
The family is a fiefdom, with parents as King and Queen and children as serfs. Or, think of your family as a military unit, with you as the General, making the rules in order to bend your soldiers’ wills into shape.
For authoritarian parents, they believe this is in the best interest of the child, that the child is self-serving and has no inner sense of right or wrong. He needs to learn from an authoritative figure, in this case, his parents, how to shed that habit and become a productive member of society.
The authoritative parent will rely on external forces to teach and control the child. These might include:
- Physical discipline, such as spanking.
- Strict non-negotiable rules, punishments, and consequences that are enforced with no discussion to the rationale behind them
- Frequent use of the phrase “Because I said so!” when the child questions a parental request.
- Coercive techniques to make the child do what the parent wants
While this might produce a child who complies with family rules and appears to be well-disciplined, it can also produce a child (and later an adult) who has not had a chance to develop an inner-sense of free will and control.
What may happen with this parenting style is that the child/young adult becomes a people-pleaser, relying on external sources for their sense of self-approval. Or, authoritarian parenting can lead to a child to rebel against authority, as they have developed a distaste for anyone whom they view as an authority figure.
Their experience has been one of learning to be submissive and one day they just rebel against that role that they’ve been forced into. (This is especially harmful when this young adult joins the workforce and needs to report to a boss or other person higher up on the hierarchy.) Or, they become people who develop expert sneaking skills, saying one thing to the authoritarian parent but actually doing the unwanted behavior on the sly. An example of this would be the following pre-dinner conversation between parent and child:
Child: I’m hungry. Can I have a cookie?
Child: Why not? I’m hungry.
Parent: I said no. Don’t ask again.
(Child waits until the parent is out of the kitchen and goes into the cookie jar to sneak a cookie, eating it secretly and with great guilt.)
Authoritative parenting is about developing a child’s internal moral compass
In this case, the parents rely on balanced communication when shaping their child’s notions of right and wrong. They focus on the issue at hand rather than a sweeping one-rule-only household. They take time to explain to the child what and why there are consequences to certain behaviors.
The child grows up with a positive sense of self, even when displaying negative behavior, as the parents’ message is “that behavior is wrong” and not “you are wrong to do that.”
Authoritative parenting does not mean that discipline is a free-for-all
To the contrary, this parenting style relies on consistency when enforcing limits and boundaries, but using language so the child can understand why these are in place.
Children feel empowered and safe when raised in this atmosphere, versus the authoritarian parenting style where parents hold all the power and the child senses he is powerless (which makes him feel fearful).
- Good clear enforcement of rules with patient explanations if the child questions them
- Non-physical “punishments” (or rather, “logical consequences to not respecting rules”) such as time-outs or loss of privileges
- The parent is a gentle guide, not a barking ruler
- Lots of socialization so the child learns the give and takes necessary for healthy relationships
- A modeling of behaviors and values parents wish to see in their child
Children raised by parents using the authoritative parenting style tend to become emotionally resilient, empathetic adults with a higher sense of self-esteem and less incidence of depression.