Firm but Fair: Authoritative Parenting

Whether it’s in the home, schools, or group homes across the country– there is one argument that stands the test of time. Do discipline and strict parenting create rebellious kids who act out against the rules, or is it the enabling parents that lead to their children acting out in uncontrollable behaviors? Should childhood be structured and rule-driven, or should kids discover the world on their own?

No matter what side you are on, or if you’re in the middle, you should know you probably have the right idea. Raising children in today’s world requires a delicate balance between the two, we call it authoritative parenting. The space between enabling and disciplinarian allows for the best of both worlds, a space for the child to naturally explore their world and learn in ways that are best suited for them. Authoritative parenting enables children to develop self-confidence, creativity, curiosity, and develop decision-making skills.

It’s easy to speak of these styles in elevated and academic terms, but what about their practice? What separates Authoritative parenting from Authoritarian? It’s where and how control is applied. An Authoritarian parenting style will emphasize demands without explanation. For example, a parent might require a child to dress in a particular way for school, collared shirt and slacks may be, and without explanation, they might enforce this through the removal of privileges. They don’t listen to the child’s complaints or concerns, and instead layout “This is how it is”.

An Authoritative parenting style might have the same ideas, but the requirement is more of a guideline than a law. Instead of demanding slacks and a collared shirt, maybe it must be that the required is “nice clothing”, something casual but not messy or disorganized. With the added explanation that how we dress represents who we are in the eyes of others. The children then can pick out the colors and ways they want to express themselves. To give you an analogy, an authoritative parent develops the “container” or “boundary” in which the child is allowed to grow, and within that boundary, they can explore and experience their world as long as those boundaries are respected. And should they be disrespectful, privileges are still lost in a way that matches the boundary disruption but with the notion of “we can try again tomorrow”. It’s an approach that treats a child with the individuality they deserve while respecting the boundaries of the parent and providing a healthy atmosphere to grow in.

The success of this style of parenting relies on the core of parenting, the nurturing transfer of wisdom, and the development of experience. Through individual exploration, a child learns more than “don’t do that, but instead “we don’t do that because..”. Core values are developed, passed on, and tested in the child’s world– who then can develop their own experience and interpretations under the parent’s guidance and initial framework.

The cons of this particular approach require parental patience and understanding that if we’re attempting to change to an authoritative style– it requires time to get results. It also requires a parent to maintain a balance between limit setting, boundary control, and consistency across their kid’s day.

This approach highlights the spirit of parenting, but the experiences of parents vary and everyone’s lives and relationships are individual. It’s not to say that this model or approach to parenting might not work for you, but your situation or family system might require additional help beyond this framework. For that reason, reach out to me for more information and a potential free consultation so that I might better understand and help with your particular problem.

Written By Nathan Valentine, AMFT.