Authoritarian Parenting: The Pros and Cons, According to a Child Psychologist

Often strict and rigid, authoritarian parents expect their kids to follow the rules at all times. We asked an expert to weigh in on the pros and cons.

Are you a more strict parent than your friends? Is your refrigerator decorated with chore charts and house rules rather than handprint art? Do you expect your children to obey you, even if you don't give them a reason for the rule you've made?

If so, you likely have an authoritarian parenting style. You have high expectations of your kids and won't put up with any of that "kids will be kids" nonsense.

What Is Authoritarian Parenting?

Authoritarian parenting is a parenting style that is characterized by strictness. Parents expect kids to follow the rules and obey without questioning their rationale. This style is controlling, with little room for give and take.

Authoritarian parenting is one of four main parenting styles identified by psychologists. The other parenting styles include permissive, authoritative, and uninvolved. Child development specialists and parenting experts generally agree that authoritative parenting is optimal because it centers on close, nurturing relationships and results in well-rounded kids.

While authoritarian parenting may seem effective in the short-term, parenting experts and pediatricians agree that it's not the best parenting style in the long run. That's because kids parented in this way tend to have lower self-esteem, are more likely to become rebellious, and often have trouble managing their emotions and thinking independently.

Read on to learn about the causes, characteristics, pros, and cons of authoritarian parenting.

What Is Authoritarian Parenting?

Authoritarian parents tend to be the most strict parents out there and the opposite of permissive parents. They tend to have lots of rules and regulations but aren't willing to discuss the rules or accept their children's feedback or opinions about them.

While this sounds harsh, most authoritarian parents mean well. Usually, authoritarian parents firmly believe their parenting style will produce children who are capable, well-rounded, high-achieving members of society.

But often, this comes at a cost. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D., an award-winning licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Paradigm Treatment Centers, says, "Children whose behavior is largely dependent on a strict regimen of do's and don'ts will base their own self-worth on whether or not they have obeyed the rules put into place by their parents."

Not only that, but this emphasis on cause and consequence can hinder a child's natural ability to make choices, which may directly impact their self-esteem.

Why Do People Practice Authoritarian Parenting?

There are many reasons that parents may use an authoritarian parenting style. According to Michigan State University, the factors that contribute to parents gravitating to this style may be cultural or a result of their own upbringing. Others may feel that a strict approach is the best way to gain compliance.

Some research indicates that certain factors combine to make it more likely that parents will choose an authoritarian style. For example, a 2018 study that evaluated parental personality and parenting styles noted parental personality traits and attachment style, the child's temperament, and the level of social support and partner satisfaction were all determinants of parenting styles.

Further, it found that authoritarian and permissive mothers, in particular, had high scores in neuroticism. The study authors explain that high neuroticism tends to indicate anxiousness and lack of emotional stability, which can interfere with sensitive parenting.

Characteristics of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parents have high expectations for their children. Specifically, this style involves the following characteristics:

  • Tend to have an extensive list of rules they expect their children to follow
  • Take a "children should be seen and not heard" approach to parenting
  • Give their children chores starting at a young age
  • Are highly focused on their children's safety
  • Give firm consequences when rules are broken
  • Sometimes use threats or punishments to keep kids in line

Authoritarian parents might be heard saying, "Because I said so." They do not believe children need explanations but instead should obey without question. Consequences are punitive and can be harsh and abusive.

Authoritarian parents also often lack responsiveness, are not overly affectionate, and tend to be critical of their children.

Pros of Authoritarian Parenting

There's no doubt that children who grow up with authoritarian parents are often the most well-behaved kids in the room. That's because they know there will be "big trouble" if they step out of line. That said, the benefits of authoritarian parenting are limited and short-lived.

That said, parents can use some tenets of authoritarian parenting mixed with other styles to produce well-behaved but also healthy and well-rounded kids. Dr. Nalin lists some pros of authoritarian parenting below.

Good behavior

With the authoritarian parenting style, the rules are crystal clear. As a result, children have a good understanding of what is and isn't acceptable. They are also highly attuned to the negative consequences of wrong behavior, so they will avoid stepping out of line.


Authoritarian parenting places a strong emphasis on safety—both emotional and physical—which minimizes the types of risky behavior a child may engage in. Children who grasp the outcome of a harmful action are more likely to stay away from it.

High achievement

Children raised by authoritarian parents adhere to detailed plans that include precise instructions. Through this structure, children can understand what steps must be taken to accomplish a goal.

Cons of Authoritarian Parenting

Over the years, countless studies have shown that an authoritarian style of parenting can lead to depression and anxiety in kids. Further, kids raised by caregivers with an authoritarian parenting style risk having low self-esteem, becoming rebellious, having difficulty thinking critically, and being emotionally withdrawn.

Over-reliance on rules

Authoritarian parenting is based on implementing and enforcing strict rules that children must continually adhere to. Unfortunately, once these children are confronted with situations without established guidelines, they will likely feel insecure and unsure of how to behave—and they may lack the critical thinking and problem-solving skills to figure it out.

Reduced self-esteem

Emphasis on cause and consequence hinders a child's natural ability to make choices, which may impact self-esteem. In addition, children who depend on others for confidence will often struggle in social situations or new environments.


Children who are subjected to authoritarian parenting are likely to grow tired of the seemingly endless list of rules consistently thrown their way. Consequently, they may deliberately defy their parents by testing their limits, which could jeopardize their safety and well-being.

Emotional withdrawal

With its focus on compliance, the authoritarian parenting style places little importance on children's feelings. As a result, children who are raised by authoritarian parents tend to shy away from expressing their emotions and may be emotionally withdrawn.

finger pointing
Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Examples of Authoritarian Parenting

Based on what we've outlined above about authoritarian parenting, here are a few scenarios demonstrating how authoritarian parents might handle everyday situations:

  • Screen time: Authoritarian parents are the most likely to place strict limitations on their children's screen time or might simply disallow it altogether.
  • Playdates: Children raised by authoritarian parents are most likely to have a clear understanding of what must be done before going out to play with friends, and they know they will face the consequences if those things are not done.
  • Food and treats: Authoritarian parents are the most likely to adhere to the "eat or go hungry" school of thought regarding meals.

The Bottom Line

Authoritarian parenting has pros and cons, but most experts don’t recommend it because the cons often outweigh the pros and negatively affect children. The risks of authoritarian parenting include raising children who have low self-esteem, trouble managing emotions, rebelliousness, and difficulty with independent thinking. Positives, like good behavior and compliance, on the other hand, are short-lived.

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  1. Comparison of Personality among Mothers with Different Parenting Styles. Iran Journal of Psychiatry. 2018.

  2. Authoritarian parenting and youth depression: Results from a national study. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community. 2016.

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