Parents play an integral role in child development over the lifespan (National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement 2013). Parenting style has been a well-studied phenomenon in relation to child outcomes. Through the studies of parenting the authoritarian parenting style has emerged as a more disciplinary style of parenting compared to the authoritative and permissive styles (Woody 2003). To fully understand different parenting styles, developmental and cultural perspectives must be considered.
Theoretical Context for Concept
Diana Baumrind (1971) developed one of the most widely used theories of parenting typology. Through her extensive work of observing children from elementary school through adolescents, Baumrind created three parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive (Pellerin 2005). Maccoby and Martin then expanded Baumrind’s theory and provided further detail of different parenting styles (Wang and Fletcher 2016).
The different parenting styles are based on intensity of two dimensions, responsiveness and demandingness. The two dimensions are not mutually exclusive rather they interact together and are used to typify each parenting style (Minaie et al. 2015). Parents who are low on demandingness and high on responsiveness are classified as permissive, while parents who are high on responsiveness and high on demandingness are considered authoritative. Parents who are low on responsiveness and high on demandingness are characterized as utilizing the authoritarian style of parenting (Pellerin 2005).
Authoritarian parenting favors demandingness over responsiveness. Parents who are low in responsiveness lack empathy and warmth toward their child(ren). While parents who are high in demandingness are able to set boundaries, limits, and age-appropriate expectations tailored toward healthy child developmental trajectories (Pellerin 2005). Thus, an authoritarian parent is generally described as a parent who prioritizes enforcing rules but often lacks a warm and nurturing disposition. Parents who utilize authoritarian parenting tend to be more rigid and narrow in rule setting while being more punitive in disciplinary measures (Woody 2003).
From a developmental perspective, parenting styles need to be taken into consideration. Since authoritarian parents tend to control the child and expect the child to follow directions, children can have difficulty developing the autonomy needed to formulate their own ideas and beliefs as they get older (Fernandez et al. 2013). Since the child is rarely provided with an explanation for expected behaviors, he or she is unable to understand why behaving a certain way aligns with one’s beliefs. Instead, a child behaves based on an existing power differential and fear of consequences. Goals are not created collaboratively, rather they are dictated. It is not unusual for children in these homes to struggle with poor self-esteem and have behavior concerns. Intrinsic motivation to succeed is rare for a child raised in an authoritarian home and consequently impact academic achievement (Fernandez et al. 2013).
Consideration must be given to the fact that parenting styles are culturally driven and the authoritarian parenting style was developed and has been rooted in Western culture (Van Campen and Russell 2010). Though the authoritative parenting style has been observed as yielding the most ideal outcomes for children, the authoritarian parenting style should be understood in the cultural context in which it exists before stigmatizing this style of parenting.
Application of Concept in Couple and Family Therapy
The therapist should take time to gain an understanding of the context for which the authoritarian style of parenting developed and was maintained. Understanding cultural influences can provide insight into how parenting styles manifest and can be viewed as beneficial in certain cultures. For example, some cultures may adhere to authoritarian parenting practices as it aligns with cultural values (Kotchick and Forehand 2002). Navigating cultural expectations regarding parenting should be done in collaboration with the parent, and the therapist should remain supportive in assisting parents in adapting old parenting styles into new ones that work within the family unit.
Communication about authoritarian parenting style is key in gaining insight into how this style of parenting is impacting the child, as well as the parent-child relationship. Children who are subject to harsh disciplinary measures and strict rule enforcement can become rebellious and exhibit other unintended consequences. Therapeutic techniques can be utilized to discuss disciplinary measures and how to adapt a parenting style to achieve the desired behaviors in children. For a parent who uses an authoritarian style this may warrant a discussion on balancing discipline with warmth and flexibility. Additionally, the therapist can explore age-appropriate expectations with the parent and child in an effort to support healthy development.
The therapist should be attentive of how the authoritarian style of parenting may present in the session. As this style of parenting focuses more on disciplinary measures and rigid boundaries, a parent may enter therapy wanting to control the flow of the session. Engaging in a power struggle hinders the ability to build rapport and can be an obstacle for engaging the parent. The therapist must remain empathetic towards this style of parenting and focus on validating positive aspects of this parenting style. Consistent discipline and monitoring of behaviors has been linked to buffering against stressors (Kotchick and Forehand 2002). Likewise, the therapist should remember that this style of parenting is a reflection of care and consideration for the child’s well being.
Georgia is the guardian of her 16-year old granddaughter, Tracy. Georgia has been raising Tracy since Tracy’s mom went to jail 11 years ago. Due to financial struggles, Georgia works long hours and Tracy is often alone. Georgia has firm expectations of Tracy while Georgia is away from the home. If Tracy does not complete the chore list Georgia has created for each day, Tracy loses her phone for 1 week for each day chores are left uncompleted. In addition, Tracy is not allowed to have friends to the home or leave the home when Georgia is at work. Recently, Tracy has begun talking back to Georgia, and Georgia discovered that Tracy has snuck out of the house on more than one occasion. Although Tracy maintains good grades at school, Georgia is concerned about Tracy’s behaviors. Georgia’s reaction to Tracy’s recent behavior is to continue punishment through taking things away from Tracy and limiting interaction with friends at all times.
During family therapy, the therapist explores with Georgia and Tracy how the isolation Tracy is experiencing may be contributing to her behaviors. Georgia reports she is not interested in the therapist’s explanations for Tracy’s behaviors and believes that her granddaughter should respect her enough to listen. The therapist continues to validate aspects of Georgia’s parenting style while exploring where it developed. After several sessions, Georgia reveals she wishes she had enforced more rules when Tracy’s mother was growing up and reveals that she was raised in a culture that highly valued discipline and control. This disclosure enables the therapist to understand Georgia’s authoritarian parenting style with Tracy and acknowledge Georgia’s concerns for her granddaughter’s safety as well as her future. The therapist and Georgia discuss alternative ways to address Tracy’s behaviors in order to elicit change such as setting boundaries and limits for sneaking out of the house while still letting Tracy know she cares.
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