We all want to be the best parents that we can be, but choosing a one size fits all approach isn’t in our nature. We’re individuals, and our kids are too. So how do we pick the perfect parenting approach that fits their needs? What style of parenting works best? Admittedly, being the perfect parent is an impossible goal, and it’s often a process of trial and error. There’s also no lack of advice for what makes for a great parent (or vice versa). Whether it’s your parents, friends, or co-workers, everyone has their idea on what makes for the best approach. So how do you know if you’re doing it right—or worse, doing it wrong? In truth, many parents fall into their own particular child-rearing styles naturally, often based on how they were raised—we want to emulate what our parents did right while fine-tuning things we wish they had instilled in us as children that got missed either by neglect or over-indulgence. It’s a work in progress. So what kind of parent are you? We live in an era where labels abound for certain styles of parenting, and some are more flattering than others. So how do we know what category we fall into? And is the style that we identify with working for us, or do we need to adopt a whole new approach to further benefit our children? All of us could probably use some insight into these categories to help us know if we’re being the best parents possible. So if you’re trying to identify your own parenting style (while also deciding if it’s working for you or not), take a look at each parenting type and the pros and cons of each.
This parenting style (also know as overprotective parenting) has been largely synonymous with the 21st century, but in truth, it was actually first identified back in 1966. By hovering over their child’s activities in a hyper-focused fashion, a helicopter parent works to be a tireless advocate for their children’s success. But it has a fairly negative connotation, right down to its official definition in Merriam-Webster: “a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child.”
Despite the negative perception of helicopter parenting, advocates say it has positive benefits. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Parenting to a Degree author Laura Hamilton noted that children with helicopter parents were more likely to graduate from college than those raised by less-involved parents. “The vast majority of those kids who got into Stanford probably got in by virtue of helicopter parents,” she said. “…It’s becoming increasingly difficult for students to successfully move through college without parental intervention and support of some kind.” Likewise, Maine educator Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes wrote for Time that her helicopter parenting style helped to alert her that her daughter was being mistreated at her school, and if she wasn’t so in tune with her children, she would have intervened too late.
Helicopter parents are often seen as anxious and over-controlling; they have the fear that their children can be harmed either by strangers or their peers, both physically or emotionally. They’re also more prone to giving into instant gratification, rather than letting their offspring develop a sense of discipline and hard-fought achievement to earn goals on their own accord. This can lead to disastrous instances, like Catherine Venusto, a school secretary who was fired after hacking into the school computer to change her children’s grades. While an extreme example, this shows how helicopter parents desire to help their child both scholastically and professionally can backfire big time. In a piece for CNN, employer Nicole Williams pulled a job offer from a candidate after a call from their mother: “She wanted to know everything from where [the job candidate] would be sitting to a review of her responsibilities. …I withdrew the offer.”
When New York mother Lenore Skenazy became publicly criticized for letting her 9-year-old son take the subway alone, she responded with the 2009 book Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry, and it established a new parental philosophy in the process. Free range parents reject the notion that their children are in constant danger or that their every waking moment must be micromanaged by studying or extracurricular activities. Free range parents aren’t worried about their child staying at home unsupervised for periods of time or taking off with their friends without checking in constantly via text messages. They feel it’s important for their kids to engage in free play, explore their surroundings, and gain a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance in the process
Many research studies show positive aspects of free range parenting: A 2004 study notes a correlation with lower rates of ADHD, while a 2009 article from the International Journal of Early Years Education identified children raised free range as more creative, less likely to bully (or be bullied) and more able to regulate their emotions.
The biggest issue with free range parents (beyond public perception that it’s irresponsible) are potential legal ramifications. Depending on your country, city, or state, there may be laws about what ages are too young to be left home alone. And as always, everything in moderation so one can avoid the fate of Erin Lee Macke, a mother in Iowa who left her four children alone at home while she enjoyed a 10-day vacation in Germany. She was arrested upon her return.
Authoritarians are the strictest parenting model. Expectations are high, while rewards and displays of affection are minimal. And whereas so many modern parents are concerned with offering choices in lieu of punishment, authoritarian parents have no such compulsions. There is simply no tolerance for misbehavior. For authoritarian parents, there is little in way of explaining why rules need to be followed, except that they must be followed.
Advocates of authoritarian parenting say that it leads to well-behaved kids who have a clear sense of right and wrong, are well-mannered, tend to avoid harmful situations, and, thanks to hard-and-fast ground rules, they have little confusion about what’s expected of them.
Donna Volpitta, EdD, founder of The Center for Resilient Leadership and author of The Resilience Formula: A Guide to Proactive, Not Reactive, Parenting, states that while children raised by authoritarian parents grow up to be obedient, “They rank lower in happiness and self-esteem. They tend to have difficulty with social competence and independence.” In other words, while authoritarian parents may have obedient kids who do their homework and chores with minimal fuss, they may mature into unhappy adults.
The exact opposite of authoritarian, permissive parents indulge their children’s whims and avoid all confrontation and punishment. These types of parents are primarily interested in forming a strong bond with their children, wanting to be seen as their children’s friends as well as their parent. Volpitta explains that, “Permissive parents establish few demands. …They rarely discipline their children because they have low expectations for mature behavior. They are lenient and establish few boundaries or expectations, but rather, indulge their children’s desires without regard to resulting behavior.”
The best aspect of permissive parenting is that the bond between parent and child is paramount. Many parents who fall into the permissive category grew up in households where they felt estranged for their parents, and they don’t wish to repeat the same mistakes.
Permissive parenting cons far outweigh the benefits according to Volpitta: “Permissive parenting often results in children who rank low in happiness and the ability to regulate their behavior. They are more likely to have problems with authority and tend to have difficulty in school.” This lack of discipline can have major repercussions. Take Ethan Couch, the Fort Worth, Texas, teen whose 2013 drunk driving accident took four lives. The judge issued the controversial “affluenza,” verdict saying his undisciplined upbringing led him unable to be held fully responsible for his actions. Some parenting experts think Couch’s case offers an extreme example of the results of permissive parenting.
Not be confused with authoritarian, authoritative parents enforce structure and discipline without neglecting healthy communication. Encouraging children to express their own views and feelings works in tandem with setting rules and boundaries. According to Holly Klaassen, parenting consultant and founder and editor of The Fussy Baby Site, “Authoritative parenting style means parents have expectations of their kids but help them to meet those expectations. For instance, they may have firm rules about getting homework done on time but are willing to help and support their child with getting it done.”
Klaassen says that research supports the authoritative style as the best parenting model on this list, working especially well for strong-willed children: “Difficult babies who are parented with warmth and flexibility outperform their more easygoing peers by grade one.” “Children with parents who have authoritative parenting styles show the greatest happiness and success,” Volpitta adds. “They tend to be more capable and confident and are able to regulate their behavior. They tend to be the most resilient.” Volpitta also states that, while authoritative parents have big expectations for their kids, “They teach and guide their children in how to meet those demands.”
The main difficulty in authoritative parenting is the parental workload—while it yields the best results, it puts more pressure on parents to enforce a variety of rules that must be modified over time depending on their child’s strengths and weaknesses. In other words, it may require a periodic rewriting of the rules, which can be stressful for both parent and child to keep straight.
It’s sad to say, but uninvolved is an actual recognized form of parenting by psychologists. And it’s all cons according to Volpitta, as these types of parents “generally lack any emotional involvement in their children’s lives. They place few demands on their children. They typically meet their children’s basic physical needs, but beyond that, they are not a part of their lives.” Obviously this is a type of parenting no one would (hopefully) want to be associated with, but if you feel you fit into this category, we recommend seeking professional family counseling; otherwise, you risk your children growing up with no self-control or self-esteem.
Why do we fall into certain styles?
So what determines what type of parent we become? Volpitta says, “Some people mimic their own parent’s style, some rebel against it (someone raised with an authoritarian parent might become a permissive parent because they disagree with the way they were raised), and some may seek out their own style (learn how to have an authoritative style).”
We can also be triggered by our children when they behave in certain ways. That’s always an opportunity for us to learn and grow with our children.
She adds that, “I also think that culture has some influence. I think our generation tends to have a more permissive parenting.” Psychologist and parenting expert Jodie Benveniste says that, “The touchstone for our own parenting is the way we were raised. We either don’t want to repeat the same pattern, or we want to emulate our own upbringing. But we’re not always consciously aware of this pattern.” The most important way to identify (and perhaps change) one’s style of parenting, according to Benveniste, is simply by observing their child’s behavior to see the results: “We can also be triggered by our children when they behave in certain ways. That’s always an opportunity for us to learn and grow with our children.” It’s always good to reflect on our parenting skills. By identifying our particular style and tweaking and adjusting as necessary, we can do right by our children, while also keeping our sanity by going with what works and tossing out what doesn’t. The end result of a happy and well-adjusted child makes all our intentions, actions, and sacrifices worth the effort.