Authoritative vs. Authoritarian and other Parenting Styles

Family Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

Many young people have somewhat of a revelation when they first become parents. Even if they’ve been reading books or taking classes on parenting skills, they soon realize that it’s more complex than they possibly could have imagined. For many, a worry creeps into mind — how am I affecting my child, and is it in a good way? That’s when the revelation occurs — wow, how did my parents affect me?  

Mom and young son freaking each other out

In an article on, the issue is summed up neatly: “Decades of psychological research have suggested that the approach to parenting generally followed by an individual’s mother and/or father can influence the way they approach relationships, challenges, and opportunities. That doesn’t mean that an adult can’t change, of course, especially once they understand what may be influencing their behavior. And parents who become aware of the pitfalls of their own style and how it may affect their kids can also change.”

The key here is that “approach to parenting.” Psychologists have developed general approaches that are classified as parenting styles. But styles are similar in a key respect to personality traits — though you may generally fall into one category, there is a great deal of overlap. The four generally recognized parenting styles are:

  • Authoritarian. Just as the name implies, authoritarian parents establish rules and expect their children to follow them, often with punishment for breaking the rules. Kids with authoritarian parents may have difficulty socializing.
  • Neglectful. While the idea of neglect is central to this style — just not paying much attention to or being very involved with their kids — there’s another aspect to neglect: lack of rules. This may lead to kids who ignore rules at school and have issues with self-control.
  • Indulgent. Another way to describe this style is permissiveness. Combine a lack of rules with the parents’ desire to be their kids’ friends, and you often have children who combine a combination of creativity and entitlement.
  • Authoritative. Research has consistently shown that this is the style to emulate to increase your odds of raising well-adjusted kids. The key is to establish rules but then let your kids have some real independence within boundaries. Another key is to use discipline in order to support a child’s growth rather than as punishment. The result, ideally, is a young adult who is clearly developing a sense of self-control as well as self-reliance.

Simply understanding different parenting styles is just the beginning, though, and probably raises as many questions as it answers. How can parents objectively determine their style? Is there any trick to becoming more authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian)? Are there tips for becoming more supportive?

Read more about the answers to all these questions here.