Authoritative Parenting

Adapted from Parenting for Character: Five Experts, Five Practices [i] 

Goal of parenting (as described by Dr. Dianna Baumrind): To achieve a healthy, well-developed child of optimal competence and character.

I.          Character: the aspect of personality that relates to accountability, persistence in the face of obstacles, and control of impulses.

II.          Competence: that which helps us reach our personal and social goals.  The ability to know right from wrong and to regulate our actions in order to choose right rather than wrong.  Optimal competence requires a balance between being self-oriented and being other-oriented.

  • Self-oriented (agency): a person’s drive to achieve independence, individuality, and self-aggrandizement.  This is measured by the extent to which a person is self-regulated, autonomous, achievement-oriented, and assertive.
  • Other-oriented (communal): a person’s drive to be of service to others and to engage collaboratively with them.  To be other-oriented is to be prosocial and cooperative.

Parenting styles

Parents determine their style by how they balance demandingness and responsiveness.

  • Demandingness: the way parents use power in childrearing: to monitor and supervise their child’s actions; to control, prohibit and modify their children’s behaviors to fit their standards.
  • Responsiveness: how parents express love, balance their children’s needs for protection and autonomy, and comply with their children’s needs and wishes.

How well or how poorly parents integrate responsive and demanding practices will determine the children’s levels of competence and adjustment. 

Four primary parenting styles:

I.     Unengaged Parents are:

  • Neither demanding nor responsive
  • Discourage dependency, yet contribute little in the way of guidance or education to development of C and C.
  • Uninvolved because they want to remain unencumbered by childrearing responsibilities.
  • Detached and neglectful, or actively rejecting and cold.
  • Children are:

a)      Not communal

b)      Not optimally competent

c)      Teens have low achievement scores and suffer from anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

II.     Permissive Parents are:

  • Undemanding, yet responsive
  • Do not require mature and competent behavior of the child
  • Set few explicit clear standards, limits, or prohibitions for behavior or respect for needs of others
  • Do not consistently enforce basic rules for conduct, such as respect for others’ needs, property, and feelings
  • Give children wide latitude to govern their own behavior ang fail to provide adequate structure and stability to children’s lives
  • While they could demand mature behavior, prohibit undesirable behavior, and obtain compliance, they more frequently indulge their children or rely on psychological manipulation by bribing, withdrawing love, or making the child feel guilty for hurting parent.
  • When children resist or test limits, they avoid confrontation in an effort to be perceived as good friends rather than authority figures.
  • Children are:

i.     Not self-regulated, prosocial, or achievement oriented

ii.     As teens they are more likely to abuse drugs

III.     Authoritarian Parents are:

  • Demanding, but unresponsive
  • Lack warmth, tenderness, and show little concern for their child’s perspective
  • Disapproving and hypercritical, rarely praising their child’s constructive achievements (like timely completion of chores or good grades) or encouraging initiative
  • Micromanage their child’s activities
  • Impose unreasonable regulations based on parental whims
  • Make no effort to communicate the reasons fore their directives or sanctions
  • To achieve the behavior they want, authoritarian parents use threats, punishment, criticism, guilt induction, and bribes rather than explanation, negotiation, or reason.
  • Impose consequences for disobedience that are harsh, incoherent, and sometimes unpredictable.
  • Demands are arbitrary, immoderate, inconsistent, and developmentally inappropriate
  • Insist on conformity to parental wishes in rigid and inflexible ways, as opposed to being realistic, issue-oriented and guided by the reality of the child’s interests, abilities, and needs.
  • Perceive by children as unapproachable, and their use of power as arbitrary
  • Children are:

i.     Give in to peer pressure more often

ii.     Have poorer academic skills

iii.     Experience greater rates of anxiety and depression than their peers

   IV.     Authoritative Parents are: The Optimal Style

  • Are both demanding and responsive.
  • Integrate and balance high levels of responsiveness with high levels of demandingness in ways that are beneficial to children’s development.
  • Encourage individuality and independence.
  • Are warm and understanding of their child’s perspective.
  • Require mature behavior within the child’s range of ability, and base demands and prohibitions on their child’s attributes, abilities and developmental level.
  • When making power assertive demands, they accompany their demands with explanations to help the child understand the parent’s conception of appropriate behavior.
  • Use reason and discussion to obtain compliance and are willing to negotiate when they deem their child’s objections to be reasonable.
  • Praise worthy behavior and achievement, and criticize actions that require change.
  • Impose sanctions connect logically to the consequences of their child’s actions.
  • Monitor children’s activities and know their whereabouts.
  • Because authoritative parents are warm, responsive and autonomy-supportive as well as power-assertive, their children are motivated to restore family harmony by complying or else by constructively dissenting in an effort to change their parent’s mid rather than to defiantly or evasively disobey.
  • Children are more community-oriented and agentic than their peers.


[i] Baumrind D. Authoritative Parenting for Character and Competence. Parenting for Character: Five Experts, Five Practices edited by David Streight. 2008. Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education. ISBN: 978-1-881678-76-2.