What's Your Parenting Style?

From authoritarian to authoritative, permissive to neglectful, we're breaking down the four types of parenting styles. Which one do you practice? 

parenting styles
Photo: Illustration by Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Take one look around the playground, and you'll surely notice a wide variety of parenting styles. In the 1960s, developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind described three distinct types—authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive—based on parental demands and responsiveness to children. A fourth style, neglectful, was added later based on work by other researchers.

Read on to learn the difference between these four major parenting styles, with information about other popular subtypes like helicopter parenting, free range parenting, tiger parenting, and more.

Baumrind's Four Parenting Styles

Diana Baumrind is considered a pioneer in parenting style research. Her original parenting styles include the two extremes: authoritarian (controlling) and permissive (autonomy-granting). Authoritative parenting is considered the ideal—it exists as a balanced approach between authoritarian and permissive. Later, based on the work of other researchers in the field, a fourth parenting style—neglectful— was added.

Authoritarian

The authoritarian style of parenting focuses on strict rules, obedience, and discipline. These parents have high expectations, and they don't hesitate to punish when children don't follow their guidelines. Authoritarian parents also take over the decision-making power, rarely giving children any input in the matter. Similar to an army drill sergeant, these types of parents are not nurturing, lenient, or communicable.

The effect on children: When raised by an authoritarian parent, children are often well-behaved at home, but they may rebel when with classmates or friends. According to Michigan State University, kids may also struggle with the following:

  • Social skills
  • Indecisiveness and trouble thinking on their own
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor judge of character
  • Trouble with anger management and resentfulness

Some research also indicates that children whose parents were authoritarian reported more substance use.

Permissive

Oftentimes permissive parents act more like friends than authoritative figures. They cater to their children's needs without giving out much discipline. For example, they might let (and even encourage) their child to drink soda at every meal, if that's what the child wants. Permissive parents are relaxed and lenient, and household rules are very minimal. These parents are the total opposite of strict.

The effect on children: Since they have a high standing in the household, children of permissive parents are accustomed to getting whatever they want. In addition, according to Michigan State University, the downsides to this parenting style can include:

  • Lack of responsibility
  • Lack of support with decision-making
  • Kids may be impulsive and aggressive
  • Kids may lack independence and personal responsibility
  • Kids may exhibit anxiety and depression

Kids who are parented permissively often have high self-esteem, but they can also act entitled, egocentric, and selfish. These children might also fail to put effort into school, work, or social endeavors since they don't have to put in effort at home.

Authoritative

Baumrind considers authoritative parenting to be the "gold standard" parenting style. Authoritative parents provide their children with boundaries, but they also give freedom to make decisions. They view mistakes as a learning experience and they have clear expectations for their children. Authoritative parents are nurturing and warm, yet they instill the importance of responsibility and discipline.

The effect on children: Usually children of authoritative parents are confident, happy, and successful. According to Michigan State University, kids parented in this manner tend to have the following positive outcomes:

  • Close, nurturing relationships with parents
  • Kids tend to be responsible
  • High self-esteems and self-confidence
  • Able to manage their aggression
  • Kids are assertive, self-regulated, and responsible
  • Kids are likely to be happy and successful

Kids who are parented authoritatively can be trusted to make the right decision on their own, and they often set high expectations for themselves. These children may also perform well academically and socially, and they're less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Neglectful or uninvolved

This parenting style wasn't initially defined by Diana Baumrind; it was added to her list later by researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin. Essentially, neglectful parents ignore their children, who must raise themselves. They don't set rules or expectations, but they also don't provide guidance when needed. In extreme cases, a child's welfare can suffer from this parental neglect.

The effect on children: Without any guidance, structure, or parental involvement, children of neglectful parents often act out. Research has found that kids with uninvolved parents have the worst outcomes. For example, they are more likely to experience the following:

  • Substance use
  • Rebelliousness
  • Delinquency
  • Lower cognitive and emotional empathy

They might, for example, get in trouble at school or with the law. In addition, they might also hesitate to form bonds with other people, and exhibit depression.

6 Sub-Types of Parenting Styles

Of course, there are plenty of parenting style subtypes. Here are some other parenting styles that parents need to understand.

Free-range parenting

Free-range parents allow their children the independence of being less-supervised or unsupervised in public. For a long time, parents who practiced this style were considered neglectful, and many thought they endangered their children due to lack of supervision. In fact, some individuals faced trouble with the law after allowing their young children independence in public.

But, more recently (and after much debate) states like Utah have passed laws in favor of the hands-off parenting style. Specifically, Utah changed the definition of neglect to not include certain independent childhood activities like walking to or from school or recreational activities or playing outside. Proponents say it can instill amazing qualities like self-sufficiency and resilience.

Helicopter parenting

If you're an overprotective parent who feels the need to control most aspects of your child's life, you likely fit the bill of a helicopter parent. Helicopter parents constantly intervene in their kid's life, and they obsess about successes or failures (specifically, they want to protect their children from failure).

The risk-assessing tendencies of helicopter parents are often driven by fear and anxiety. Parents who intervene in this way can hinder a child's ability to learn integral life skills, confidence, and self-sufficiency. Research by the American Psychological Association found that kids who experience helicopter parenting are less likely to be able to manage their emotions and behavior.

Snowplow parenting

Snowplow parents (also known as lawnmower or bulldozer parents) are easily willing to drop everything to fulfill their child's wants and demands, no matter how small. They essentially "plow down" anything standing in their child's way.

Lawnmower parents often have good intentions and don't want their children to experience struggle. However, these habits don't provide a foundation for long-term happiness, and they can actually worsen a child's anxiety of failure. An extreme example of snowplow parenting is the college admissions scandal, where numerous high-profile celebrity parents were convicted of bribing colleges to admit their children.

Lighthouse parenting

One of the more balanced methods of parenting, the lighthouse approach was coined by pediatrician and author Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. He said in his book, Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love With Expectations and Protection With Trust, "We should be like lighthouses for our children. Stable beacons of light on the shoreline from which they can measure themselves against. Role models. We should look down at the rocks and make sure they do not crash against them. We should look into the water and prepare them to ride the waves, and we should trust in their capacity to learn to do so."

This means finding the perfect balance when loving, protecting, communicating, and nurturing your child.

Attachment parenting

With attachment parenting, parents believe in a nurturing and hands-on approach to parenting. They think that putting a child's needs first leads to independence and emotional stability. Parents who follow this style value physical closeness, bed-sharing and co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, positive discipline, and other attachment-based approaches to raising children.

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found an association between sensitive-responsive parenting and children’s language skills. Specifically, kids with parents with higher levels of responsiveness and warmth had more than two times better language skills than children whose parents were less responsive. On the other hand, this parenting style is demanding of parents and can sometimes feel out of balance when parents are less flexible in their approach.

Tiger parenting

Often displaying rigid and harsh characteristics, tiger parents expect obedience and success. This term gained mainstream attention due to Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, where she describes tiger parenting as an authoritarian method commonly used in Chinese culture.

Some research has found a correlation between tiger parenting and anxiety in children, possibly due to their parent's high demands and constant expectations for perfection.

Updated by
Nicole Harris
Nicole Harris, SEO Editor
Nicole Harris is the Editor at Parents. She joined the team in 2018 as a Staff Writer and was promoted to SEO Editor in 2021. She now covers everything from children's health to parenting trends. Nicole's writing has appeared in Martha Stewart Weddings, Good Housekeeping, The Knot, BobVila.com, and other publications. A graduate of Syracuse University, Nicole currently lives in New Jersey with her husband.
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