One goal of parenting is raising competent children who are healthy and demonstrate good judgment and character. Experts often recognize authoritative parenting as one of the most effective ways to achieve this. This approach has many benefits and is an effective way to foster independence, individuality, autonomy, and assertiveness while also encouraging children to be prosocial and cooperative with others. While authoritative parenting is not the only parenting style, evidence supports its efficacy.
The best way to understand authoritative parenting is to look at it in contrast to other parenting styles. Three of these are often defined as:
Authoritative parenting is considered by many to be the optimal parenting style. These parents are demanding yet responsive, warm, and considerate of the child's perspective on things. They provide explanations for demands and expected behavior, attempt to reason with the child to elicit compliance, correct undesired behavior, and praise successes. They know where their children are and monitor them but still support autonomy.
Though similar in spelling, authoritative and authoritarian are contrasting approaches. Authoritarians lack warmth and rarely praise their children. They are hypercritical and micromanage their child's activities while offering little explanation for their instructions. Demands are arbitrary and consequences are unpredictable and harsh. These parents as seen as unapproachable by their children, who studies suggest are more likely to do poorly in school, give in to peer pressure, and experience depression and anxiety.
Other styles that contrast authoritative parenting are also not as successful. Unengaged parents discourage dependency but do not offer any guidance to support autonomy. They are also cold and rejecting as a result of their lack of involvement. Children raised by unengaged parents struggle socially, and teens are more likely to have low test scores and experience depression and anxiety. Permissive parents do not demand much from their children, but they are responsive. They set few limits and rules, avoid confrontation, and do not provide the necessary structure their children need. As a result, children are poor self-regulators, not achievement-oriented, and are more prone to substance use as teens.
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One of the best ways to understand why authoritative parenting is successful is to consider punishment, especially in contrast to authoritarian parents. Authoritarian parents value obedience and believe their job is to bend the will of the child to suit authority. They value their power over the child and may use coercion to elicit the desired behavior. In contrast, authoritative parents use communication and responsiveness to the child's needs to their advantage. They tend to have fewer rules but are better at enforcing them. While children of both types are generally well-behaved high-achievers, children of authoritarian parents are more likely to become depressed and have lower self-esteem.
Authoritative parents adjust their expectations depending on what the child needs. They focus more on individual issues and circumstances and do not attempt to adhere to an absolute rule or social standard if it does not suit their child. One of the most important disciplinary tactics authoritative parents adopt is working to have the child conform to demands and rules while also respecting their rights and making a real effort to meet their needs.
Authoritative parenting involves knowing what is reasonable to expect from a child. Children need freedom and experiences to learn but thrive when they know their boundaries. Authoritative parents should allow their children to experience frustration and pain, which help them develop coping skills and independence. While any parent should make every attempt to protect their child from harm, it helps to remember that falls, bumps, and bruises are going to happen and that the child needs to learn how to handle these things to succeed later in life.
Authoritative parenting wraps a lot of positive elements into one overall approach, which is why it is so successful. Responsiveness from a parent helps develop attachment with the child. Children are more likely to align with a parent if they have a strong bond. The communicative approach of authoritative parenting helps children understand the reasons behind rules and punishments. This, in turn, encourages the development of empathy, moral judgment, and a moral compass.
Authoritative parents not only set high expectations for their children but also provide the support their children need to reach those expectations. To achieve the best long-term goals, parents must teach children specific skills and encourage the development of attitudes that foster success, balancing this with the love and support they need to get there.
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