Parenting Style – Part 1

This is the first part in a series excerpted from my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Teen.

Parenting Style Makes a Huge Difference

I’ve closely followed the research of Diana Baumrind and other child development researchers who have studied the highly healthy characteristics of children. Here’s a list of traits parents would love to see in their children:

  • independence
  • patience
  • satisfaction
  • curiosity
  • maturity
  • friendliness
  • self-starting
  • goodness
  • self-reliance
  • kindness
  • self-control
  • achievement orientation
  • peace

The researchers attempted to identify the most significant elements of parenting style likely to foster these wonderful qualities. They found that a father’s and a mother’s parenting style captures two important elements:

  • parental responsiveness and
  • parental demandingness.

Parental responsiveness (also referred to as parental warmth or supportiveness) refers to “the extent to which parents intentionally foster individuality, self-regulation, and self-assertion by being attuned, supportive, and acquiescent to children’s special needs and demands.”

Parental demandingness (also referred to as behavioral control) refers to “the claims parents make on children to become integrated into the family whole, by their maturity demands, supervision, disciplinary efforts, and willingness to confront the child who disobeys.”

I like to think that a balance of these two represents a balance of love and limits, which we must keep in mind as we move into a discussion of four dominant styles of parenting—each of which balances love and limits a bit differently.

Dictator Parents

These parents are domineering, autocratic, and highly controlling in their insistence that their children knuckle under to their authority. They rely on commands and value obedience as an absolute virtue.

Dictator parents set iron-fisted limits and rules. Their teens do what they’re told—or else. These parents are big on punishment (external force) instead of using discipline (coaching with both external force when necessary and helping the teens develop an internal sense of right and wrong).

They either don’t believe or can’t be sure their teens will do the right thing when no one else is watching.

Dictator parents do not encourage give-and-take with their teens. They never negotiate, and they take no prisoners. They demand that their children never express any disagreement with their decisions, decrees, or declarations.

Researchers have found that the children of dictator parents tend to lack social competence, have lower self-esteem, and rarely take the initiative in activities. They show less intellectual curiosity, are not spontaneous, and usually rely on the voice of authority.

When these teens leave home, they tend to drift either into the “top dog” or “bottom dog” category. They may become dictatorial bosses or submissive followers. They may become procrastinators—resistant to schedules and expectations—or they may push themselves and others unmercifully.

Champion Parents

Champion parents are warm and nurturing parents who administer blameless love. They communicate well with their children and balance love, grace, and mercy with clear authority.

They dispense rewards and penalties appropriately. Champion parents stay cool, calm, collected, and in control.

They expect mature behavior from their children, and when they see it, they affirm and even reward it. They see themselves as their children’s guides and guardians, their providers and protectors, and their coaches and cheerleaders.

Champion parents are big on discipline as I define it—teaching and guiding rather than punishing and dominating their children. They respect their teens’ independence and decisions as they grow older and mature.

Nevertheless, these parents generally hold firm in their own positions. They are clear and explicit about their points of view but are equally willing to admit they are wrong or have made a mistake.

Best-Friend Parents

Best-friend parents are warm and accepting, just like champion parents, but they are extremely concerned about not stifling their child’s creativity.

Best-friend parents make few demands for mature behavior; they usually don’t expect their wishes to be carried out. They are very much in tune with their children’s emotional needs but have difficulty setting limits.

Because of this, they tend to parent inconsistently and to resort to negotiating with their teens.

Researchers call these parents indulgent and permissive, who, ironically, often become resentful of the teens they “loved” so much. They often end up feeling like martyrs.

Teens who have best-friend parents generally have difficulty controlling their impulses or accepting responsibility. They may be bored in the midst of the indulgence poured out on them.

When these teens become young adults, they continue to expect others to give them what they want when they want it. These kids usually hate to work and as a result tend not to find or hold jobs. They have limited career goals and can fail to persist in life.

Marshmallow Parents

Marshmallow parents are uninvolved, and they demand little and respond minimally.

These “whatever” parents are basically asleep at the wheel of parenting.

Marshmallow parents raise teens who tend to be angry, rebellious, ego-centric, selfish, and demanding—because they usually don’t care either. These teens can have attachment, cognition, and emotional problems. They may lack in social skills and are more likely to be aggressive.

When the teens nurtured in these parenting styles are evaluated, what do we see?

As you might expect, champion parents come out on top. Their teens show the highest academic achievement, the highest social skills, and the fewest behavioral and psychosocial problems. These teens tend to be intellectually, emotionally, and relationally healthy.

Dictator parents and best-friend parents are in a tie for a very distant second place. Dictator parents have teens with the second-highest academic achievement, the second-lowest behavioral problems, the third-highest social skills, and the third-lowest psychosocial problems.

Compare this to best-friend parents, who have teens with the second-highest social skills, the second-lowest psychosocial problems, the third-highest academic achievements, and the third-lowest behavioral problems.

Last and by far the least, marshmallow parents have teens with the lowest academic achievement, the lowest social skills, and the highest psychosocial and behavioral problems.

Next week, we’ll look at A Parenting Style Case Study. We’ll imagine a case where you’re putting clothes into your teen’s dresser. When you open the drawer, you see a pack of cigarettes. And, we’ll look at how parents of each of the four parenting styles might react.

To learn more, you can read these other posts:

Here are three other posts that may be helpful in nurturing highly, healthy teens:

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