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Parenting

Permissive Parenting: Traits, Impacts, and Insights

To help you understand permissive parenting, we've consulted with five experts who share their insights, criticisms, and alternative parenting strategies to consider.

Permissive Parenting: Traits, Impacts, and Insights

Unlike other parenting approaches, the permissive parenting style is more laid-back. Parents focus on being friends with their children rather than strict authority figures. As a result, children raised by permissive parents tend to be confident, have good social skills, and have high self-esteem.

However, this parenting style has its drawbacks. Permissive parents, who define their parenting style by a lack of boundaries and discipline, might raise kids who struggle to develop self-control, have trouble following rules, and even struggle academically.

Despite these challenges, there are ways to improve permissive parenting. To help you navigate this, we've consulted with five experts who share their insights, criticisms, and alternative parenting strategies to consider.

Characteristics of Permissive Parenting

Licensed therapist Melissa Tract, LCSW, defines permissive parenting as a lack of strict rules and expectations but high levels of warmth and responsiveness.

She explains to Today's Parent, "Parents who adopt this approach tend to be highly responsive to their children and their needs, but are unable to set limits and rarely enforce discipline."

Another key characteristic of the permissive parenting style includes parents giving an abundance of permission to their children, adds Tract. "Permissive parents may allow many different things that maybe many parents do not allow, and not say no often. It can almost seem like the parent is acting in a somewhat hands-off approach towards the child in how they parent."

Parent-Child Relationship Dynamics

In contrast to other parenting approaches, the parent-child relationship under a permissive parenting style tends to have a distinct character. Instead of the parents being in charge, the kids hold significant power.

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According to Tract, "Because the parent wants that child to be more of a friend to them, they do this by trying not to step on any buttons or get their child upset, which looks like a parent who is warm, nurturing and accepting, again, even when the situation doesn't call for it."

However, this level of power given to the child can have consequences. Tract continues, "Now a child realizes they can do things and act freely without any consequences, speak however, wherever, and whenever they want, and make choices for themselves (that maybe they aren't ready to make). Should a permissive parent decide to step in, it can be hard for them to try to set boundaries or rules."

Discipline and Rule Enforcement

Permissive parents tend to take a more hands-off approach to discipline. Tract explains to Today's Parent, "They are reluctant to impose consequences or punishments on their children, as they fear this may upset the child and damage the 'friend-like' relationship they prefer to maintain."

However, this lack of consistent discipline can have negative consequences. Tract adds, "Children raised by permissive parents may become entitled, believing that many behaviors are 'okay,' only to find that this mindset does not translate well to the real world. Furthermore, the lack of clear boundaries and inconsistent discipline can make the child prone to depression and anxiety. This confusion and uncertainty can then carry over into the child's relationships with friends and others outside the home."

Effects of Permissive Parenting

Permissive parenting can have positive and negative impacts on children. Although parents who show warmth and affectionate acceptance towards their children have a positive impact, licensed clinical professional counselor and registered play therapist supervisor Jessica Bloom, LCPC, RPT-S, states that this parental behavior also correlates with increased behavioral problems in children.

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As Bloom explains to Today's Parent, "Children of permissive parents exhibit disruptive and aggressive behaviors, as they have not been exposed to appropriate limits and boundaries. They also might rely too much on their parents or things like TV and video games to make them feel better immediately when upset. But this can make it hard for them to calm themselves down or find healthy ways to deal with their problems."

Some studies have shown that kids raised by permissive parents also have higher rates of school misconduct. Rachel Goldberg, MS, LMFT, says, "Studies have shown mixed results regarding the correlation between permissive parenting and school misconduct. Part of this is because parents often fluctuate between different parenting styles or fall somewhere in between two. That said, it's not too far-fetched to see why some studies would suggest that correlation."

Additionally, children raised by permissive parents may be at a slightly higher risk of developing substance abuse issues compared to those raised in authoritative or authoritarian households. "Because permissive parenting is characterized by leniency and lack of structure, it increases the likelihood of alcohol use among teenagers, which could lead to dependency or association with peers who also use substances, potentially leading to an unwanted path," says Goldberg.

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Cultural and Historical Context

While society and culture play a role in shaping parenting styles, Bloom suggests that the recent shift towards more permissive approaches is primarily driven by the rapid advancements in technology and the increased accessibility of technology among children and adolescents rather than any significant changes in parental attitudes.

Criticisms and Controversies

According to Bloom, one of the primary criticisms of the permissive parenting approach is the unhealthy level of dependence it can foster in children.

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As Bloom explains to Today's Parent, "If you have a parent who's always rescuing that child and providing no opportunities for that child to learn the internal resourcing to either tolerating discomfort or learning how to handle difficulty themselves, you get a child who is dependent. This excessive dependence on the parent can prevent the child from developing the necessary skills and resilience to navigate challenges independently."

Studies suggest permissiveness also leads to poor academic achievement. "Studies showing a relationship between permissive parenting and a negative correlation with school grades and achievement," says Bloom. "The research has tended to be about childhood consequences and not into emerging adulthood." 

Alternatives to Permissive Parenting

While the permissive parenting style has some positive aspects, Bloom suggests that authoritative parenting is the most beneficial approach for a child's mental health.

Bloom explains to Today's Parent, "Authoritative parenting includes the warmth/affection seen in the permissive parenting style, but it also utilizes clear and rational direction of the child. Those parents share their reasoning behind the rules that are set. Kind but consistent boundaries are set, and child autonomy is encouraged through choice-giving. Authoritative parenting promotes pro-social behavior, assertive boundary setting, and calm, positive."

Supporting Permissive Parents

Goldberg emphasizes that some parents hesitate to alter their approach because they worry it might damage their relationship with their children. Nevertheless, education is essential for parents who feel their style isn't working.

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Goldberg continues, "This involves understanding the underlying reasons for their parenting choices and seeking professional guidance from experts like licensed therapists, coaches, or pediatricians who specialize in family dynamics. Additionally, online resources, parenting forums, and support groups can offer valuable insights and practical advice from other parents who are navigating similar challenges."

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FAQs

Are permissive parents a result of authoritarian parents?

People who had strict parents when they were young might be very relaxed with their children later on. They may do this to ensure that their children don't follow the same tough rules that their parents did.

According to Christine Carrig, M.S.Ed., the founding director of Carrig Montessori School in Brooklyn, NY, "There are many permissive parents who consider themselves cycle breakers. These parents are trying to break the pattern of what they felt was a damaging parenting approach from their own upbringing."

However, Carrig warns that this approach can be unhelpful if taken to an extreme, as it may hinder a child's healthy development by not setting age-appropriate boundaries.

What are some signs that a parent may be exhibiting an overly permissive parenting style?

While some parents may believe that shielding their children from normal expectations will lead to a happier childhood, Carrig disagrees.

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"Parents who fear that setting boundaries or asking their children to follow simple requests could be emotionally damaging are actually permissive parents," she says. "This type of parenting stems from the assumption that having boundaries, limits, and expectations could hinder their child's growth."

Are there any situations where permissive parenting may be more beneficial than other styles?

Carrig notes that parents tend to adapt their parenting methods, frequently switching between different approaches. Although she advocates for the authoritative parenting style, she recognizes that it's reasonable for parents to temporarily deviate from the high-expectation aspect if needed.

Experts

  • Melissa Tract, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist for children, teens, and young adults with over 8 years of experience
  • Christine Carrig, M.S.Ed., founding director of Carrig Montessori School in Brooklyn, NY
  • Jessica Bloom, LCPC, RPT-S, licensed clinical professional counselor and registered play therapist supervisor
  • Rachel Goldberg, MS, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist

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