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

Warm and friendly, permissive parents grant generous access to everything fun. But are they too lenient? Get to know the pros and cons of permissive parenting.

Child watches something on a tablet.

Jimena Roquero / Stocksy

Do you avoid saying "no" to your kids at all costs? Do you avoid disciplining them because you long to maintain your BFF status? Do you have a tendency to stand back and let your kids decide how they'd like to experience life?

If so, you're probably practicing permissive parenting. Learn more about permissive parenting, including the pros and cons of this parenting style.

What is Permissive Parenting?

Permissive parenting is one of the three major parenting types as defined by Diana Baumrind in her 1960s groundbreaking study. It's characterized by a lack of structure, consistency and limits when it comes to discipline, and very little interference on the parents' behalf. Most parents who practice permissive parenting tend to be kind and loving toward their kids, which is great!

But over time, the lack of boundaries and limits can have unintended consequences. "Rules and respect are intimately connected; one cannot exist without the other," says Jeff Nalin, an award-winning licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Paradigm Treatment Centers. "Parents who fail to implement certain restrictions also fail to teach their children to respect themselves and others, which can negatively impact the way they interact with teachers, peers, and authoritative figures."

Permissive Parent Traits

  • Give few and/or inconsistent rules
  • Prefer to be a friend to their child, rather than an authority figure
  • Consider their child's opinion in large decisions
  • Emphasize freedom over responsibilities
  • Allow for natural rather than imposed consequences
  • Aren't overly concerned about safety, seeing risky situations as learning opportunities

Pros of Permissive Parenting

When it comes to permissive parenting, it's not all bad news! In recent years, this parenting style has seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to "free-range" parenting, a philosophy that closely mirrors permissive parenting. Tenets of free-range parenting include natural consequences, learned independence and resourcefulness. And though not identical, these similar styles of parenting, when implemented thoughtfully and on the right type of child, can have positive outcomes.

While it may not be the most popular parenting style out there, some pros of permissive parenting do exist. Nalin highlights a few below:

  • Self-assurance. When children are encouraged to express themselves freely, they will become more confident and willing to try new things, regardless of the consequences. Unconditional love is the key to raising a child who values him or herself.
  • Exploration. Permissive parenting allows children to have more freedom, thus inspiring them to undertake new adventures with a greater sense of confidence.
  • Creativity. When there are fewer limits, children can experiment with all sorts of passions and hobbies. Children who grow up in a less rigid environment have an easier time tapping into their innate creativity.

Cons of Permissive Parenting

Despite this, there are some downsides to be aware of before you try to get all buddy-buddy with your kiddo. While that may seem counterintuitive (don't kids want to be able to do whatever they please?), know that rules and boundaries help kids to feel comfortable and secure, no matter how much they might push back at times.

"Without a set of precise boundaries, children have no real sense of what is right or wrong. As a result, they will often test the waters to gauge how their parents will react, sometimes seeking attention from them," says Nalin. This attention-seeking behavior can be the catalyst for several other negative consequences of permissive parenting, especially at its extremes. Nalin shares these cons of permissive parenting:

  • Risk-prone temperament. Without proper boundaries, children are left to fend for themselves and may approach certain situations without fear or trepidation, which can increase their chances of engaging in risky behavior such as substance abuse.
  • Behavioral inhibition. Some studies have demonstrated that children who are raised by permissive parents are more prone to anxiety and depression. In many cases, these children are taught to keep their problems to themselves, which causes them to withdraw.
  • Rebellion. Children who are permitted to "rule themselves" believe they can apply this type of behavior outside of the home, leading to a challenging and rebellious attitude toward others.

Examples of Permissive Parenting

Based on what we've outlined above about permissive parenting, here are a few scenarios that demonstrate how permissive parents might handle everyday situations.

  • Screen time: Children of permissive parents may enjoy unlimited access to screens instead of having daily or weekly limits placed.
  • Play dates: Rather than having a hard and fast rule about no play dates unless the childrens' rooms are clean, permissive parents might enforce the rule on some days but not others.
  • Food and treats: Permissive parents are most likely to keep their kitchen "open at all times," allowing their kids to eat whatever and whenever they'd like.
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