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Parenting

Authoritarian Parenting: Traits, Impacts, and Alternatives

We asked four experts to explain authoritarian parenting, its main features, the criticisms it receives, and other parenting styles that can create a more caring and supportive atmosphere for your kids.

Authoritarian Parenting: Traits, Impacts, and Alternatives

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Have you heard of authoritarian parenting before? If not, it's one of the four main parenting styles defined by developmental psychologist Diana Baurmind.

In authoritarian parenting, parents act as the boss, and kids must follow the rules without argument. This old-fashioned approach emphasizes the parents' authority, with children simply doing as they're told.

While children raised by authoritarian parents may grow up to be responsible and respectful of authority figures, this method can also have drawbacks.

For example, Authoritarian parents, who are strict and controlling, may inadvertently suppress their children's creativity, self-expression, and independence. As a result, kids raised by authoritarian parents are more likely to develop mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, and low self-confidence as they mature.

Thankfully, authoritarian parents can improve. To make it easier for you, we asked four experts to explain authoritarian parenting, its main features, the criticisms it receives, and other parenting styles that can create a more caring and supportive atmosphere for your kids.

Characteristics of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parents have a specific way of raising their kids. According to Dr. Joel Gator, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, authoritarian parents actively impose strict rules, demand obedience and discipline, and require kids to follow these rules, with no room for open dialogue.

"Parents who use this way of parenting usually expect their kids to follow the rules without asking questions. They don't always listen to what their child needs or how they feel. Instead, they just want their child to obey them," he explains to Today's Parent.

Authoritarian parenting has some similarities with other styles. Authoritative parents also have high expectations for their children, but they are more understanding and supportive.

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However, authoritarian parenting is different from permissive parenting. Permissive parents don't have many rules or expectations, but they are responsive to their kids.

Authoritarian parenting is also different from uninvolved parenting. Uninvolved parents ignore their children or are not as involved in their lives.

Parental expectations and discipline of Authoritarian Parenting

Authoritarian parents, as described by Dr. Jenny Woo, a Harvard-trained expert in child development, often punish their children and exert control over them as their go-to methods for disciplining, leading to an extremely strict parenting style.

"The core expectations of authoritarian parenting typically revolve around rules, obedience, and conformity," Dr. Woo tells Today's Parent. "Like the word authoritarian, there is a significant power difference between the parent/caregiver and the child. Kids must follow the rules without objection, and they will face strict consequences if they fail to do so.

Dr. Woo adds that punishment methods might include scolding, timeouts, withdrawal of privileges, or corporal punishment methods such as spanking. "The focus is often more on immediate compliance than teaching long-term decision-making skills."

Father on the couch waving his finger in disapproval at his daughter who is on the floor iStock

The effects on child development

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Authoritarian parenting can have both good and bad effects on how a child grows and develops. On the positive side, kids with authoritarian parents often learn to follow rules well. They may have high academic success, especially in classes that have a lot of structure and rules.

However, authoritarian parenting also has downsides."While structure is necessary, excessive focus on obedience and punishment can hinder the development of crucial skills like decision-making, empathy, and emotional regulation," Dr. Gator explains.

Kids raised by authoritarian parents often face additional challenges. According to child development expert Reena Patel, these kids tend to struggle more with problem-solving skills.

Patel continues, "They may also exhibit shyness, signs of depression and anxiety, and even aggressive behaviors towards others. This could be a way for them to release the emotions and feelings they've had to suppress within their home environment. While these children may know what not to do, they often lack guidance on the expected behaviors and don't receive enough praise during teachable moments."

Cultural and historical context of Authoritarian Parenting

Parents choose how they raise their kids based on the rules and customs of the society and culture they live in, according to Dr. Gator.

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"In some cultures, people believe in having a strict order where kids must obey adults and the group is more important than the individual. In these places, parents are more likely to be strict and controlling with their children," says Dr. Gator. "This is because the culture sees tough parenting as a way to keep things organized and keep doing things the traditional way."

In societies where individual rights and personal freedoms take priority, Dr. Gator suggests that people may view the authoritarian approach badly. "Examining the cultural context helps us understand why parents might choose authoritarian parenting methods and how kids raised under these methods perceive them," he adds.

Criticisms and controversies

While authoritarian parenting may instill a sense of discipline and structure in children, according to Patel, this approach has also faced some criticism, as noted by Dr. Gator.

He explains to Today's Parent, "One of the main criticisms of authoritarian parenting is that it can stifle creativity and independence in children.

Discouraging children from thinking for themselves or experimenting with new ideas can diminish their problem-solving skills and creativity. By not fostering an environment that supports independent thinking and exploration, we risk hindering the development of crucial cognitive abilities in young minds."

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Authoritarian parenting also raises significant ethical concerns. According to Dr. Gator, "Such methods, which often include harsh punishments and severe criticism, can affect a child's self-esteem and foster feelings of worthlessness and fear rather than respect. From an ethical standpoint, discipline should aim to educate and develop the child, not to instill fear or inflict pain."

Alternative parenting approaches

Authoritarian parents can make changes to become better parents. One way they can do this is by using a balanced authoritative parenting approach. This means they don't have to be so strict all the time. They can be more flexible and understanding with their kids.

"Research consistently shows that kids raised by these types of parents are more likely to become well-adjusted, independent, and socially accepted individuals, Dr. Gator says. "This style encourages independence but within reasonable limits, fostering self-discipline and responsibility."

Dr. Gator adds that adopting a more nurturing and democratic style can also lead to improved parent-child relationships, better emotional and social skills in children, and lower levels of defiance and aggression. He continues, "These parenting strategies promote open communication, mutual respect, and understanding, fostering a more emotionally supportive environment."

Supporting Authoritarian Parents

Dr. Gator says there are many things parents can use to learn how to be empathetic and understand their kids better.

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He tells Today's Parent, "Parents can go to classes to learn about parenting, read parenting books, talk to a counselor, or look at websites that teach them how to talk to their kids in a good way, set rules that make sense, and know what their kids need as they grow up."

Parents can also refine their parenting approach by cultivating emotional awareness, suggests Natalie Bunner, LCSW-BACS, CCTP, a licensed clinical social worker.

"When parents recognize that their emotional distress is influencing how they respond to their kid's behaviors, they can then explore alternative ways to handle those situations, says Bunner. "Taking this self-reflective step empowers parents to make more thoughtful, effective choices. Actively identify the strategies that work and those that don't. Be willing to discard ineffective methods and adopt more effective, sustainable approaches tailored to your children's needs."

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FAQs

How do the effects of authoritarian parenting compare across different developmental stages?

Dr. Woo says that authoritarian parenting can affect children differently as they grow. Dr. Woo explains, “Younger kids may follow rules at first, but this parenting style can also make them more anxious and less confident.”

As kids grow older, authoritarian parenting can be present in different ways. Dr. Woo says, “When parents don’t show enough care and are too strict, kids might rebel, have mental health issues, and have a hard time getting along with their parents. So, it’s important for parents to change how they parent as their kids get older.”

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Is it possible for parents to change authoritarian parenting techniques over time, or are the effects of such styles long-lasting?

Dr. Woo suggests that parents can transition from an authoritarian parenting style to a more balanced approach gradually over time.

However, she stresses the need to make these changes promptly, as delaying them could have long-lasting consequences for the child.

What role does a parent's upbringing play in shaping their authoritarian tendencies?

Dr. Woo explains that parents who grew up in strict households tend to adopt similar strict parenting methods when raising their own kids, often without being aware of it. This occurs because the strict parenting style they experienced during their own childhood becomes their default approach.

Parents have the power to break this cycle of authoritarian parenting by taking proactive steps. They can seek out various resources such as workshops, books, counseling, and online tools. These resources play a crucial role in helping parents acquire effective communication skills, establish healthy boundaries, and gain a deeper understanding of their children’s developmental needs.

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Experts

  • Dr. Joel Gator, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and author
  • Natalie Bunner, LCSW-BACS, CCTP, a licensed clinical social worker
  • Dr. Jenny Woo, MBA, PhD, a Harvard-trained researcher and educator, and CEO of Mind Brain Emotion
  • Reena B. Patel, a positive psychologist and licensed educational board-certified behavior analyst

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