Children in the Balance: Should You Rethink Your Parenting Style?

A girl sits on her mother's lap, gazing at a laptop.From infancy through young adulthood, our children’s consciousness of themselves is being forged, tenuously dangling between entitlement, insecurity and, we hope, a third and better option.

We have the responsibility as parents to provide a developmentally rich context in which satisfied needs for closeness and belonging are counterbalanced by increasing experiences of self-direction and significance. Mature parents successfully nurture both secure attachment and responsible autonomy.

In the 1960s, Diana Baumrind introduced us to three forms, or styles, parents embody:

Permissive parenting is characterized by an approach that is involved, nurturing, and accepting but with few demands or controls. Permissive parents are responsive to their children’s needs and wishes, but they may avoid confrontation by being permissive.

These parents may prefer to be the child’s friend over the parent in order to be liked and accepted. When there is a lack of consistent discipline or consequences, and typically there is, the pendulum swings between firmness and leniency. They may have come from a strict home and have vowed to not raise their children in that way.

Permissive parents (also known as indulgent) are responsive, but not demanding. Baumrind wrote, “They are nontraditional and lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation” (p. 62).

Children of permissive parents often develop high high anxiety and compulsive thoughts and behaviors as they negotiate convictions without much guidance and few set limits. They must come to terms with the world’s structures and demands against the backdrop of their own unregulated experience of emotion, belief, and choice, and their underdeveloped capacity for self-control.

Strict parenting is characterized by high expectations of conformity and compliance to parental rules and directions. These parents take on a more restrictive approach that does not allow open dialogue about the reasoning behind rules and expectations, exerting a form of psychological psychological control over their children. Barber described psychological control as “control attempts that intrude into the psychological and emotional development of the child.”

Strict parents (also known as authoritarian) want to be respected for their rules and provisions with no questions asked, either because this was how they were raised or because they feel unsure about their own parenting. Strict parents “value obedience as a virtue and favor punitive, forceful measures to curb self-will.” Strict parents are demanding but not responsive.

Children of strict parents often develop high anxiety as well as compulsive thoughts and behavior as they negotiate their hidden cravings for authentic expressiveness, unpracticed freedom of will, underacknowledged emotional processes, and an underdeveloped capacity for self-direction.

Democratic parenting is a balanced approach characterized by high expectations for maturity and compliance to parenting rules while allowing an open dialogue about those rules and behaviors. Democratic parents at once encourage indepence and place limits and controls on their child’s actions.

These parents directly balance their children’s rights and privileges with their ability to take responsibility and demonstrate good judgment. They set clear standards for their children, monitor the limits they set, and encourage their teens to develop autonomy by letting them make decisions.

In short, democratic parents (also known as authoritative) achieve the right balance in facilitating freedom and responsibility. Democratic parents are demanding without exerting psychological control and emotionally responsive without losing behavioral control. Democratic parents do well at explaining the reasoning behind the rules, limits, and consequences they impose. This approach, known as inductive discipline, has been correlated in research with the development of prosocial behavior and more advanced moral reasoning skills.

Baumrind said that democratic parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative.” Democratic parenting requires that parents themselves have a well-developed prowess for both self-control and self-direction. Often these parents are mindful and conscientious individuals who have a balanced set of internal, family, and community resources.

Children of democratic parents experience anxiety in response to stressors like the rest of us. Yet it has been shown that often these children are more adaptable in the face of the stressors they encounter. Research has suggested that children of democratic parents are less likely to experience debilitating depression or anxiety, less likely to engage in socially aggressive behaviors, and less likely to use illegal substances.

Similarly, it has been shown that when parents are more reprimanding of their children’s academic mistakes, children are more likely to struggle with problem-solving processes and learning.

The firm, yet friendly approach taken by democratic parents nurtures social and academic competence, facilitates the development of moral decision-making faculties, and teaches kids to live within healthy limits and to tolerate reasonable controls, nurturing a capability for both self-control and self-direction. It is clearer than ever that parents who balance an ability to be demanding in their expectations, while remaining firm in discipline, alongside the nurturing practices of accessibility, affection, and emotional responsiveness raise more confident, competent, and resilient children.


  1. Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Children. Child Development, 37(2), 887-907.
  2. Baumrind, D. (1991). The Influence of Parenting Style on Adolescent Competence and Substance Use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.
  3. Barber, B.K. (1996). Parental Psychological Control: Revisiting a Neglected Construct. Child Development, 67(6), 3296-3319.
  4. Kamins M., and Dweck C. (1999). Person Versus Process Praise and Criticism: Implications for Contingent Self-Worth and Coping. Developmental Psychology, 30(3), 835-847.
  5. Krevans, J. and Gibbs, J.C. (1996). Parents’ Use of Inductive Discipline: Relations to Children’s Empathy and Prosocial Behavior. Child Development, 67, 3263-3277.
  6. Lamborn, S.D., Mants, N.S., Steinberg L., and Dornbusch, S.M. (1991). Patterns of Competence and Adjustment Among Adolescents from Authoritative, Authoritarian, Indulgent, and Neglectful Families. Child Development, 62, 1049-1065.
  7. Schmittmann, V.D., Visser, I., Raijmakers, M.E.J. (2006). Multiple Learning Modes in the Development of Performance on a Rule-Based Category learning task. Neuropsychologia, 44, 2079–2091.
  8. Steinberg, L., Lamborn, S.D., Dornbusch, S.M., and Darling N. (1992). Impact of Parenting Practices on Adolescent Achievement: Authoritative Parenting, School Involvement, and Encouragement to Succeed. Child Development, 63(5),1266-1281.
  9. van Duijvenvoorde, A. C., Zanolie, K., Rombouts, S. A., Raijmakers, M. E., and Crone, E. A. (2008). Evaluating the Negative or Valuing the Positive? Neural Mechanisms Supporting Feedback-Based Learning Across Development. Journal of Neuroscience, 28, 9495–9503.

© Copyright 2011 by Blake Edwards. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Zoe Fraser

    August 19th, 2011 at 3:38 PM

    My father was very strict with us,God rest his soul. He was a great believer in if you are under his roof, you’re under his rules. I thought I was very unlucky to have him as a dad when I was a teenager. Now I’m grown and have children I can respect his values and understand how worried he must have to have three young girls to watch out for.

    I think he went too far and was overly restrictive but did what he thought was best. I can see now the lack of self-direction in myself and other traits mentioned there in my siblings as a result of our upbringing.

  • Lesley Brody

    August 19th, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    I’m single, not a parent but I will say this. I’d much rather have had a very strict parent than one who didn’t give a damn.

    My mother had me at sixteen and was very immature for her age. After the novelty wore off of having a pretty baby and the reality of what all that entails set in, she promptly announced to my family on my first birthday that if no-one would take me, she’d give me up for adoption. Like I was a puppy to be discarded because he chewed a slipper!

    Fortunately my grandmother was happy to take me under her wing permanently. She was doing the lion’s share of looking after me anyway because my mom wanted to do what all the other sixteen year olds were doing-partying, dating, getting drunk–and Grandma worried for my safety. She offered to babysit for weeks at a time and Mom would happily disappear without so much as a call to say where she was then turn up back home eventually when she ran out of men or money.

    Where that woman is now I have no idea (I refuse to call her Mom. My Grandma is my REAL Mom and raised me well). She went off one day with a backpack and some guy on a Harley to see the country when she was 19 and never came back.

    Broke my Grandma’s heart she did with her behavior. I could perhaps have forgiven her for dumping me like a piece of trash, but not that.

  • Chrissie Wright

    August 19th, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    I’m a mixture of all three, mainly a cross between a permissive parent and a democratic one. I’m not completely laid back so I wouldn’t fall into the permissive category. On the other hand I do have times when I can be very strict. I’m definitely not so well-adjusted to be considered a democratic parent 24/7 either as not everything is up for debate and sometimes I lay down the law because I’m the mom and that’s not up for discussion.

    Hmm…I guess I’m a hybrid parent. You need a fourth category, Blake. ;) Good article!

  • Peyton Buchanan

    August 19th, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    LOL@hybrid parent, Chrissie. I was just thinking that I can’t fit into any of those boxes neatly either. Assuming you go with the one you most identify with I would say I’m more democratic than indulgent or strict. I like to give them room to grow and not clip their wings too much.

    I won’t hesitate if I need to though!

  • Celia

    August 19th, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    I always think that it is a good idea every now and then to critically evaluate the things that you are doing as a parent and to tweak a few things here and there. None of us are typically going to be the parent of the year, but you can come a little closer as you learn and grow with your kids and find the things that work well for them and the things that do not. I cannot stand to be around those parents who have such a rigid style that they do not ever see that there could be some room for improvement. There is always room for that and I think that your children respect you a little bit more too when you let them know that it is a learning process for everyone, but that you are working hard to get it right.

  • Ronan Riley

    August 20th, 2011 at 1:38 AM

    I was taught to be well mannered and obedient, and I raised mine the same way my mother did us five. We certainly didn’t have the smart mouths on us, and foul ones they are too,that teenagers have today. My mother would have washed ours out with soap if she even thought she heard cheek coming from our lips.

    Your children will get nowhere in life and be horrible, selfish people if you’re not strict with them and have high expectations of them. Accept nothing less than exemplary behavior.

  • Elliot Horton

    August 20th, 2011 at 1:50 AM

    The problem with overly strict parenting is if there is no reason for the rules other than “Because I said so”, you’re not going to experience the joy of any level of friendship with your child, only hostility. You would be counting your lucky stars if they ever visited you after they moved out.

    And yes, you guessed it, I’m one of those permissive parents you’re all so scared of.

  • Josh Reeves

    August 20th, 2011 at 2:32 AM

    @Elliot Horton: You are correct, Elliot. My mother was a mean old woman who had more rules than Monopoly. She keeps asking me when I plan to visit her next and one of these days I will scream “NEVER!!” and block her number on my phone. I go by twice a year and even that’s too much.

    It’s as if she has no recollection of all those years of neglect and emotional cruelty I suffered at her hands. She paints pictures in her mind of what a happy childhood I had. But I remember it well and it was anything but.

    Parents: if you never want to hear from your kids again when they leave the nest, make sure that you’re very strict. Works every time. Mine sure will never see any grandchildren of hers I may have.

  • layla s

    August 20th, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    my parents would definitely belong to the democratic parenting profile-they set limits and rules but always explained why the limits and rules existed.they allowed me to be my own self but never let me stray.

    i’m thankful to them for this even to this day and I intend to follow their path when I have children of my own.

  • Jo

    August 20th, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    If you see that your child is struggling, then a good parent will see that it is probably a good time to take a step back and do what is best for the child. This may go against your natural tendencies, but if it is in the best interest of the child, then why as a good parent would you not consider doing that?

  • Jasmine Charles

    August 20th, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    I have my own rule in life where if I feel a rule is not or cannot be justified, then it doesn’t apply to me and tough luck on you if you think that it should.

    If you make a rule, you need to make it for a good reason and you need to be able to demonstrate that reason if asked. So many rules in life are unnecessary because they are antiquated and no-one thought to update them to reflect the changing world.

  • Fraser Kelley

    August 20th, 2011 at 9:28 PM

    If your kid has problems with “academic challenges”, the first step is to discover how they are learning, and if they are not learning it right, you should try explaining it in a simpler fashion. If they are simply not being told how to do it properly, you need to consult their teacher. Often problems with learning are that the method used doesn’t fit the student’s learning style, not the parenting style.

  • Lucy Bates

    August 20th, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    @Ronan Riley-Well said!I agree completely. We see all these ill-mannered surly children at the mall, no adults in sight. Their parents didn’t care to raise them right or keep a check on them. I had a teenage boy let an entrance door swing shut in my face that I was about to go through with my grandson in his buggy.

    We were walking so close behind each other I assumed he would hold it open when he pushed it, but no. It’s time that ruling them with an iron rod came back into fashion because it’s the only thing some youngsters understand.

  • H.z

    August 20th, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    Sticking to extremes is not a good thing in any situation,no matter whichever extreme end you choose…the same with parenting.following a middle path seems to be the greatest thing that you can gift your child.

  • Eddie Webb

    August 21st, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    Thanks for this, Blake. I appreciate you clarifying the differences. Your article shed some light on the issues I face today. When I can look back at my parents like this, I can see more clearly how their permissive parenting style shaped me as a person without my knowing it. You certainly turned on a few light bulbs there.

  • R.Adams

    August 21st, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    I just think our parenting styles are actually developed within us long before we become parents…in our early years of growing up.We see our parents,our environment and all this just plays a major role in deciding the kind of parent that we are gonna be.I’m not saying we can’t change our parenting style with a little bit of effort,but then a major part of it is formed early on and frankly we don’t have much control…!

  • Brad

    August 22nd, 2011 at 4:15 AM

    If what you think that you are doing is the right thing, then why compromise who and what you are?

  • Jameson

    August 22nd, 2011 at 3:59 PM

    Democratic=way better than autocratic!

  • arnold rodgers

    August 22nd, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    whatever we do as parents it’s quite a challenge now to raise even one child.sometimes I just wonder how they are so different,how things have changed so much in just one’s almost as if people from different planets are trying to get along.and things don’t seem to be very different with a majority of the parents that I’ve spoken with.

    in such a scenario,what would be the best way to protect your children?explaining to them is almost out of the question because they are just not interested.

  • Teresa Stiles

    August 23rd, 2011 at 12:11 AM

    I sincerely hope my children see me as democratic. I have my suspicions that if you asked them today my 15 year old twin girls would say I was strict. Only because I didn’t allow them to attend a friend’s sleepover last weekend where the parents are away overnight and it was in the next town. They think I’ll be locking them up in a dungeon any day now LOL.

    They are not used to me saying no without it being open for negotiation. As it turned out, nothing awful happened, no parties or anything (or so they said). I wasn’t willing to take that chance though. So this week I’m big bad mom.

    They don’t know what my secret weapon is. I was young once too and have a very good memory. ;)

  • Blake Edwards

    August 23rd, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    Arnold, you asked, “What would be the best way to protect your children?” Certainly the social context has changed, as it does from generation to generation. The idea that this young generation has changed MORE than previous generations has to some degree been mythologized (though there is ground to say wireless technology and social media have brought with them a significant paradigm shift in the way they affect children’s development).

    Which begins to get at your question… Protecting our children is a matter, in my view, not so much of “explaining to them” as “understanding them” and then “guiding them” accordingly.

    Our children are each so unique. Even in one family, two children can be so different (I have twins so I can attest to this!), despite the same social conditions and nurturing. Therefore, the TEMPERAMENT of your children is nearly as dominant a factor in their development as SOCIAL/GENERATIONAL FORCES (see the works of Jerome Kagan, one of the greatest developmental psychologists of our generation).

    At the end of the day, the answer is that you should get to know them, their world (social context-values) and their temperament (inborn predispositions-traits). These make up–arguably–the dominant factors that will contribute to the ongoing development of their personality and emerging identity in the world.

    I believe that parenting is a careful, thoughtful, dance of understanding and honoring your children’s unique interests and abilities while working really, really hard to set appropriate limits that protect their well-being without stifling or smothering their natural potentials, offering constant accessibility to you as a parent, consistent and unconditional affection, and emotional responsiveness to their hurts and curiosities, and guiding them with values and a sense of history and place without unduly caging their need to explore the unknown and forge autonomy.

    In short, know the kid you have and back off of that unproductive and unwinnable project of making your child into your own image or into some image you may have created for them. Yet, maintain your authority in providing discipline and direction.

    In Proverbs 22:6, it is written to “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The original Hebrew has a different feel, communicating to “train up a child according to his way.” This proverb beautifully interlaces a child’s need for structure, direction, and values (in other words, you SHOULD train up your child!) with a child’s need for the nurturing of their individual predispositions (think temperament) and increasing autonomy (in other words, “according to his way”).

    All of this, I conclude, is a great defense for a “democratic” (also known as “authoritative”) approach to parenting your children.

    Strict parents lean too heavily on what they can offer their child’s development toward maturity while often neglecting to get to know what the child, from the outset, uniquely has to offer the world. Permissive parents lean too heavily on the child’s capability to take care of and direct themselves toward maturity while neglecting many opportunities to nurture values and guide temperament, which are extremely effective ways for parents to navigate the challenges they face with their children.

  • Laura Brightwood

    August 29th, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    I do not believe there is one right way. But, the way that includes being honest, available, and willing to keep learning is most likely to find success in their kids. Unfortunately, so many parents drop their children off for the “therapist to fix”. This model does not work, in my experience. So I’ve given a lot of creative thought on how to include the reluctant parent.

    My team and I have been working on a website that is just ready for release. ParentPaths is a self guided tool for parents to learn strategies for how to teach their kids social and emotional learning. In my opinion, it is best when guided by a professional. But we have researched this approach and have evidence proving it’s efficacy.

    If you find yourself working with parents who need coaching on how to “coach, model, teach” their child, check out this new, innovative site. We tried to make the price affordable. For the cost of a “Low paid” single session, parents can have a 10 session guide through “How to help your kids make and keep friends”.

  • James K

    October 8th, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    As a teenager I must say my parents fall in the way to restrictive category and it affects me greatly it my ability to express myself, learn and develop. My parents greatly disagree with me wanting to learn about the field of computers its as if they feel violated about it almost, just for reference I’m 15 years old so anything I say should be taken in that context, they disagree with me having a Facebook, I have one they are just blocked, they don’t like me being independent and wanting to express myself and voice my opinion, another thing on our cellphone plan we have Unlimited Texting for all phones but yet they wont let me text they have it blocked it really makes no sense, and when I ask them why they follow the textbook and say “because I said so” or something stupid like that, I tell you its not healthy for me they just don’t understand. It causes me to break the rules more then obey them and I do express compulsive behavior that I know is wrong and I dont want to do but I do anyway.

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