mom and kids in a yard playingShare on Pinterest

There’s no manual for parenting — something you probably realized when you brought your little one home. There’s no single “right” way to parent. How you parent will depend on how you were raised, how you see others parenting, and even, to some extent, your cultural background.

Some of the more widely recognized parenting styles are:

  • authoritative
  • authoritarian
  • attachment
  • permissive
  • free range
  • helicopter
  • uninvolved/neglectful

If you have a newborn at home (or one on the way!) and want to learn about which parenting style might be right for you — or if you have an older child and wonder if your current methods might be worth rethinking — read on to learn more about the different types of parenting.

Remember:

There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to parent, and your style will likely draw from several different types. On those tough days when you’re questioning everything, remind yourself that this parenting thing is hard, perfect kids don’t exist, and you’re doing an amazing job at raising your little human.

Many child development specialists consider this the most reasonable and effective form of parenting. Consider yourself an authoritative parent if you:

  • set clear and consistent rules and boundaries
  • have reasonable expectations for your children
  • listen to input from your child/children
  • are generous with positive feedback

Pros and cons of authoritative parenting

Pros

As an authoritative parent, you create a loving and supportive environment for your children. As a result, your children:

  • Rate higher on mental health scores.
    • According to research published in 2012, children raised by authoritative parents have higher levels of self-esteem and quality of life than those raised by authoritarian or permissive parents.
  • Are healthier. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notes that adolescents with authoritative parents (versus those who use the other parenting forms) are less likely to:
    • have problems with substance abuse
    • engage in unhealthy sexual behaviors
    • be violent

Cons

While most experts agree that authoritative parenting produces the healthiest outcomes for kids, it requires a lot of patience and effort to make sure everyone is being heard.

In addition, rules sometimes have to be adjusted, and that can be hard for kids — and parents!

Examples of authoritative parenting

  • Your 16-year-old thinks a 10 p.m. curfew on weekends is too early, so you and your child agree upon (and you enforce) one you both think is fair.
  • Your student comes home with a D on a history test that you know they studied for. Instead of being angry, you praise your child for what they did right — studying hard — but encourage them to talk to the teacher to see what they can do better next time.

Authoritarian parents aren’t about winning any popularity contests — which is a good thing, since popularity matters very little when it comes to making the right choices. (You know the old adage — what’s right isn’t always popular, and what’s popular isn’t always right.)

These parents focus on keeping the troops — err, kids — in line so they can be their best selves.

When you’re an authoritarian parent, you:

  • set strict rules and expect your children to follow them
  • punish (sometimes severely)
  • have high expectations and expect that your children will meet them. Every. Single. Time. (and kids do often rise to high expectations)
  • don’t encourage open communication

Pros and cons of authoritarian parenting

Pros

Many people agree that firm parenting is good parenting. When your child knows their boundaries, they may be better able to focus on their achievements.

Cons

Authoritative parenting has its share of negatives. According to 2012 research out of the University of New Hampshire, the children of authoritarian parents:

  • don’t see their parents as legitimate authority figures
  • are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors (such as smoking, skipping school, and underage drinking) than the children of those with other parenting styles

Other research shows that children of authoritarian parents are more depressed than other kids and are more likely to have poorer grades.

Keep in mind that most kids rebel at some point, and this may happen in any parenting environment — including an authoritarian one. This can lead to a less-than-ideal parent/child relationship.

Examples of authoritarian parenting

If you’re an authoritarian parent, it’s your way or the highway.

  • Your child asks why they can’t have friends over, see a certain movie, or have a cookie for dessert. Your reply? “Because I said so!” (Note: All parents respond like this on occasion, and that doesn’t make you a bad parent — or even necessarily mean you’re an authoritarian parent.)
  • You may use intimidation and fear to get your child to do things. For example: “Clean your room or I’ll throw out all your toys” or “If I get a bad report at the parent/teacher conference tonight, you’ll get a spanking tomorrow.” (Again, most parents find themselves making “deals” of this nature at one point or another — or even using the related technique of bribery.)

Ever see “Mommie Dearest”? Well, think the opposite. Attachment parenting is a child-centric form of parenting in which you create a safe, secure environment for your child (forget the hysterical rants about wire hangers!).

  • You have a lot of physical contact with your child — you hold, carry, and even co-sleep with your child.
  • You respond to your child’s needs without hesitation. You soothe, comfort, and support in order to make your child feel safe and loved.

Pros and cons of attachment parenting

Pros

While it may seem counterintuitive, a study published in 2010 in APAPsychNET reports that children exposed to attachment parenting are:

  • independent
  • resilient
  • less stressed
  • empathetic
  • able to control their emotions

Cons

Attachment parenting can become all consuming. You may have to miss a lot of Wine Down Wednesdays with the girls, get used to having no privacy (or sex), and just generally have little time to or for yourself.

On a more serious note, co-sleeping with an infant can increase risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and is not recommended.

Examples of attachment parenting

  • Your baby cries, fusses, or seems fearful. You immediately go and comfort them.
  • Your toddler has a nightmare and wants to sleep in your bed. You allow it.

Permissive parents are loving and warm. They deviate from traditional parenting techniques in that it’s the children who call the shots — not the other way around. If you’re a permissive parent, you:

  • don’t set strict limits or boundaries
  • don’t always attempt to control your children
  • have few, if any, rules
  • allow your children to make many of their own decisions

Pros and cons of permissive parenting

Pros

Permissive parents are generally loving and nurturing. Although this isn’t a parenting style most experts encourage, children raised without limits often praise their upbringing and credit it with developing them into independent, decision-making adults.

Cons

Kids can get into a heap of trouble — that’s what kids do. Whether they get into more trouble in a permissive parenting environment depends on the individual.

  • One 2016 study found that college kids raised by permissive parents had more perceived stress and were less mentally healthy than other kids.
  • Other research shows that permissive parenting may lead to obesity and cavities in children.
  • A 2019 study showed that children of permissive parents are more likely to be the victims of bullies. Interestingly enough, the bullies tend to be the children of authoritarian parents.
  • According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, permissive parenting can lead to teenage drinking.

Examples of permissive parenting

There are two main tenets to permissive parenting: You don’t have — or even want — control. And your kids have complete freedom to make mistakes — and learn from those mistakes. Arguably, these lessons may “stick” better than if you simply dictate rules.

  • Your sixth-grader wants to skip school, just because? You think: Well, it’s their decision to make. (And they’ll likely see the consequences in the form of poorer grades or detention.)
  • You find alcohol in your teen’s bedroom. You think: I wish my kids would make better choices, but I can’t make them do what they don’t want to do. (Again, permissive parents are kind and loving. Being a permissive parent doesn’t mean you give your child who has been drinking the keys to your car.)

Like chickens that aren’t confined to a cage, the children of free-range parents are given room to roam and take risks, but with parental guidance (notice we didn’t say full-on parental supervision).

It’s not “anything goes” with free-range parents (that’s closer to permissive parenting). Free-range parents loosen the reins, but before they do they give their kids rules and consequences when they aren’t followed. Free-range parents give their kids:

  • independence
  • responsibility
  • freedom
  • control

Pros and cons of free-range parenting

Pros

Giving kids control and responsibility helps them grow up to be:

  • less depressed
  • less anxious
  • more able to make decisions
  • self-reliant

Cons

  • Your children might get hurt when they’re unsupervised, but the risk is small. Your kids are safer walking alone the half mile to and from school each day than with you driving them.
  • In some states, free-range parents can be charged with neglect. It happened to Maryland parents when they allowed their children to walk home alone from a park, although the charges were later dropped.

Examples of free-range parenting

  • You let your preschooler wander around the playground while you watch from a distance.
  • You let your child walk alone to a friend’s house a few streets away. But before they set out, you explain to your child what to do if they get lost or a stranger approaches.

Know someone who orchestrates every aspect of their kid’s life, from what friends they have to what food they eat to what they do in their free time? Then you know a concerned, conscientious parent. But society may also label them a helicopter parent.

Helicopter parents:

  • try to control many situations (out of love, may we add)
  • lack confidence in their child’s — well, any child’s — ability to handle situations as skillfully as an adult would (fair enough, perhaps)
  • constantly offer guidance to their children
  • jump in to solve their children’s problems

Keep in mind that these parents are acting out of love and concern. They absolutely want what’s best for their kids and don’t want their precious child’s mistakes to affect their future.

Pros and cons of helicopter parenting

Pros

While many experts caution against helicopter parenting — a parenting style that some argue can make kids feel stifled and dependent — there’s in fact research that points to an upside.

  • Research cited in a 2016 study that looked at college students and their helicopter parents showed that kids who know their parents are monitoring their behavior are less likely to:
    • drink heavily
    • take sexual risks
    • hang out with people who drink heavily

Cons

There’s also a downside. According to psychologists at Indiana University, kids who have helicopter parents are more likely than others to:

  • lack self-confidence and self-esteem
  • report higher levels of anxiety and depression as adults
  • have a fear of failure
  • be poor problem solvers

Examples of helicopter parenting

  • Your child is having a playdate with a classmate. You tell the kids what they should play and who gets to go first. Then you referee the game. This leads to a very peaceful, friendly game without fighting.
  • Your teen fails a test. You go directly to the teacher and ask if they can retake it.

What’s been labeled as uninvolved or neglectful parenting is a style that is often outside the parent’s control. If you’re a single parent working two jobs to make ends meet, for example, necessity may dictate a tough reality — that is, that you feel more disconnect with your kids.

Uninvolved parents may not be at their kids’ T-ball games. They may not have met their child’s teacher or visited their child’s school. It’s possible they don’t know their child’s favorite color, food, or best friend. These children often feel unloved, unappreciated, and unseen.

Neglectful parents:

  • feel indifferent towards the child, possibly due to situations outside of the parents’ control
  • don’t take care of the child’s physical and emotional needs beyond the basics
  • can act dismissively
  • lack responsiveness
  • are emotionally or physically absent from child’s life
  • may be physically abusive

Research from 2009 shows that parents who recall physical abuse in their own childhoods are 5 times more likely to be physically abusive parents and 1.4 times more likely to be neglectful parents.

Again, uninvolved parenting isn’t typically a conscious choice. These parents often have circumstances preventing them from forming a bond with their child.

A note about neglectful parenting

If you recognize these behaviors in yourself and want to change, therapy can help. It can give you insights as to what is causing these negative parenting behaviors, as well as how to replace them with more positive options.

Pros and cons of uninvolved parenting

Pros

There are no documented upsides to this style, though children are resilient and may become more self-sufficient out of necessity. Overall, the kids of uninvolved/neglectful parents have some of the worst outcomes when compared to kids of other parenting styles.

Cons

Research published in 2019 in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found children of neglectful parents often:

  • have trouble controlling their emotions
  • are likely to be depressed
  • have academic challenges
  • have difficulty with social relationships
  • are antisocial
  • are anxious

Examples of uninvolved parenting

  • You have no idea if your child’s completed their homework, and it doesn’t particularly matter to you.
  • You leave your 4-year-old in the car while you shop at the mall.

There are so many parenting styles — basically, there are as many styles as there are parents. Chances are you won’t fit into one category, and that’s okay. Your child is unique in ways that you know best, so your parenting will be unique, too.

Research suggests that your children will have the healthiest outcomes if you walk the thin line between being nurturing but not too controlling. But at the end of the day, we are all making calculated decisions — or flying by the seat of our pants, as we all do at times — out of love for our little ones.

If you have parenting questions, talk to your child’s pediatrician. If they can’t help you, they can refer you to a mental health counselor who can.