Authoritarian parenting is an “old-school” parenting style based on strict rules that are enforced without explanation. The phrase “because I said so” is enough reason for authoritarian parents. Authoritative parents also set and enforce rules, but they do so with explanations and discussions.
Parenting is a strange thing. We all swear never to repeat our parents’ mistakes, yet more often than not, we end up falling into the same traps they did. It helps to be aware of different parenting styles so we can consciously decide to do things differently. Two of these types of parenting are authoritative and authoritarian. But what do they mean, and what is the difference?
Many of today’s young and older adults alike grew up in authoritarian homes, and we naturally tend to do things the same way, almost automatically. That does not necessarily make it the ideal way to raise a child. Let’s compare authoritarian and authoritative parenting on a more fundamental level, so you can see what each parenting style involves and its consequences.
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Authoritarian parenting was the most common parenting style until the mid-1900s, when sciences like psychology emerged from the realm of myth and magic and became a recognized science. Due to psychological studies, people have discovered some parts of authoritarian parenting styles that should be discarded.
Despite this, many parents today still operate primarily within the authoritarian parenting style. This is mainly because of the example they got when they were growing up and, because they either never saw another way or weren’t interested in learning a different method, they stuck with it.
What Is Authoritarian Parenting?
The authoritarian parenting style often seems devoid of love and focused solely on psychological control. Sometimes this is the case, but those situations are actually few and far between. Authoritarian parenting, though focused on an almost dictator-like rule over the child, is still based on love and the desire for the best for your child, even though the methods may be wrong.
According to psychologist Diana Baumrind, authoritarian parents have certain traits:
- They don’t encourage verbal give-and-take. Authoritarian parents tend to disregard the opinions of their children. This is often demonstrated by phrases like “because I said so”, “do as I say and not as I do”, or “children should be seen and not heard.”
- Authoritarian parents are focused on obedience and status. They expect their children to blindly obey their orders without question or hesitation. Linked to the first point, there’s no reason for an authoritarian parent to explain the reasons for their rules or orders. They are simply to be obeyed. Think of it as “chain of command”, almost like an army general with their soldiers (rather than a caring parent to their beloved children).
- Authoritarian parents can sometimes try to control their children or discipline them by shaming them or withdrawing love and affection.
Some other aspects can potentially define an authoritarian parent. For example, parents that often explode into fits of anger towards their children, especially with lots of yelling and screaming, tend to be a sign of an authoritarian parenting style. Emphasis is placed on achievements and accomplishments rather than on the effort the children put in.
Authoritarian parenting is a style that’s entirely focused on behavioral control through psychological manipulation. Rules are established without explanation and enforced strictly. It’s a militaristic approach to child-raising, and in extreme cases, it could lead to abuse and severe trauma for the child. It has high demands but offers little response, at least not in a positive way.
Examples Of Authoritarian Parenting
Authoritarian parents don’t brag about it these days, and it’s very difficult to point out famous real-life examples. However, I’m sure that most of us can point out someone we know who is an authoritarian parent, either from our childhood or even someone we might know today. Even though the numbers are dwindling, finding someone is still reasonably easy.
Pop culture, though, is rife with examples of authoritarian parents. Hundreds, if not thousands, of popular movies and tv series have authoritarian parents in some form or another. Some examples include:
- Footloose. Reverend Shaw Moore is an excellent example of an authoritarian parent who attempts to control every aspect of his daughter’s life. He sets strict rules for her and then enforces them even more strictly.
When we take a closer look, we can see that this attitude, which she interpreted as a lack of love, was adopted by Reverend Moore after the loss of his son in an attempt to protect his daughter from meeting a similar fate. It backfired because he went about it the wrong way, but it was still done from a place of love and caring.
- The Sound of Music. At the beginning of the movie, Captain Von Trapp’s parenting style is very militaristic and authoritarian. He expected his children to behave in a certain way and be almost like soldiers in their attitudes. It’s only when Maria appears on the scene and starts explaining things to them that things change for the children and the Captain.
- That 70s Show. In this TV sitcom, Red Foreman is the authoritarian father of one of the lead characters, Eric. Red set stringent rules for both his children and often threatened violence if his laws weren’t followed. Though it’s painted in a comical light in the sitcom, the effect is that everyone in the neighborhood is afraid of Red, which is a realistic outcome.
- Brave. In this movie, Queen Elenor is the mother of the lead character, Merida. The Queen has an authoritarian parenting style, and she forces many strict rules upon her daughter, expecting her to behave and act in a certain way because that’s “how she’s supposed to act.”
The result of this is that Merida rebels against her mother’s wishes, sometimes even making decisions simply because it’s the exact opposite of what her mother expects of her, with no other logical reason.
Ironically, she is often aided by her father in the rebelling process, which is another sign that often pops up: authoritarian parents can be the same in their other relationships, too.
The Effects of Authoritarian Parenting
As mentioned before, the authoritarian parenting style isn’t all bad and has some advantages. These include:
- The rules are clearly defined. There’s no room for interpretation and no grey areas. Children know without a doubt what is expected of them, which is a factor that can make a child feel secure.
- Children from authoritarian homes can be very goal-driven and successful in school and later in life. The fact that achievements and accomplishments are driven into them from such a young age may have some advantages on their development and even on their careers.
- Children of authoritarian parents are seen as disciplined and well-behaved. Though this might be the case, it’s not necessarily for the best since their discipline comes from fear rather than understanding and wisdom.
But authoritarian parenting also has many disadvantages to take into consideration:
- Children of authoritarian parents tend to be rebellious in some way, whether it’s upfront rebellion (like Eric’s sister in That 70s Show) or more behind-the-scenes and out of their parents’ sight (like Eric himself).
- Children who are forced into rules that they don’t understand often tend to test those rules for themselves, leading to the exact outcome that their parents were trying to avoid in the first place.
- Children from authoritarian households can have many social problems, including feelings of inferiority among their peers, being less socially competent, less effective at communication, and sometimes even getting aggressive with other children.
- Some psychological studies have also found that children of authoritarian parents are more likely to develop depression and other psychological problems in their teenage and adult years.
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A Summary of Authoritarian Parenting
Authoritarian parenting is a style that leaves much to be desired. It is strict and expects blind submission and obedience. Though abuse is not always involved, it is a parenting style that is often seen as abusive.
It’s important to emphasize again that many authoritarian parents do what they do with the best of intentions and as a consequence of the only parenting example they ever saw. Because of this, the phrase “that’s what my father did to me, and I turned out fine” is another thing you will commonly hear them say.
Authoritarian parenting can have many dire consequences, but we should be careful not to judge authoritarian parents too harshly.
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Authoritative parenting is an ever-evolving parenting style that’s been emerging more and more over the last century. Though it also has aspects that could easily be seen as unfavorable, experts agree that it is generally a healthier and more effective parenting approach.
What Is Authoritative Parenting?
Authoritative parenting is a style that sets high expectations but offers large amounts of encouragement and support in return. It is a parenting style that clearly defines the rules but also explains the reason for them in terms the child can understand.
Authoritative parents set the same strict rules and limits for their children as authoritarian parents. It’s not a “free-for-all” parenting style that allows the child to do whatever they want; far from it. In this regard, the two parenting styles are almost identical. The difference lies in a few fundamental focal points:
- Authoritative parents welcome communication. Not only do they explain rules and limits to their children, but they also welcome feedback and questions from them. In other words, rather than treating the child like a subordinate, they treat them like human beings with valuable opinions and important questions.
Though the child’s opinions and questions might not change the rules or limitations, they give the parent a teaching opportunity, which helps the child see the wisdom behind the rules, satisfying some of their curiosity and making them less likely to rebel.
- Authoritative parents look at both the achievement and the effort. If the child falls short of their goal, instead of going into screaming fits of anger, the parent will talk the child through the process leading up to them not achieving their goals and work with them to find ways to make it work out to their advantage.
- Authoritative parenting is more focused on nurturing. Whereas authoritarian parenting can use affection and love as psychological manipulation tools, authoritative parents make the child aware that they are loved unconditionally and that all the rules are there to help them accomplish more.
Though authoritative parents are also strict, the child should never get the idea that their parents’ love and affection are dependent on them achieving some goal or behaving in a certain way. Love is unconditional.
- Authoritative parents use positive reinforcement as the most common motivator. Instead of making threats (idle or not), authoritative parents offer rewards for jobs done well and goals accomplished. Note that the parent’s love is not a part of this equation. Unconditional love is precisely that – unconditional; it is never used as a reward nor its withdrawal as a punishment.
Examples Of Authoritative Parenting
As with authoritarian parenting, we can easily find examples of authoritative parents all around us in our daily lives. Teachers will be able to recognize kids who have authoritative parents since they will always strive to be better while never fearing their parents’ reactions.
There are many examples of authoritative parents in movies and TV shows. Here are a few of them:
- The Lion King. Mufasa is one of the most famous movie fathers of the last few decades, and it’s interesting to note that he is so well-known precisely because of the great father he was to Simba. It was a tragic moment when Mufasa died, and many of us will admit to shedding a tear (or ten) when we saw that in theaters.
What made Mufasa such a great father? He was authoritative. He clarified to Simba what was expected of him and where his boundaries were, but he also explained why that was the case. Simba made his choices knowing full well what the implications were but then paid a very high price for that.
However, not even once was Simba left thinking that his father didn’t love him, proven even up until Mufasa’s very last moments.
- Finding Nemo. Even though Marlin is not the best example of a father throughout the movie, rather expertly demonstrates the phenomenon known as “helicopter parenting,” the road that Marlin travels gets him to adjust his view and become an excellent authoritarian parent.
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In the beginning, Marlin is an over-protective father to Nemo because of what had happened to their family. However, towards the movie’s end, Marlin learns to communicate the threats and dangers to Nemo effectively enough to allow Nemo the freedom to make his choices and travel his own path.
- Matilda. The movie Matilda shows us examples of all kinds of parents, but interestingly, the best examples of authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles aren’t even her parents.
Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the headmistress, is the perfect (if exaggerated) example of the authoritarian parenting style. On the other hand, Miss Jennifer Honey demonstrates many of the traits of an authoritative parent.
Miss Honey is willing to listen to Matilda, notices how unique and special she is, and loves her unconditionally. When Matilda struggles, Miss Honey is there to offer guidance and support and reward her for her accomplishments.
Matilda is never left under the impression that Miss Honey will simply allow her to do whatever she wants. The rules and guidelines are clear. But at the same time, Matilda never feels like she has to prove anything to Miss Honey to earn her love and respect. She can just be herself, and Miss Honey will help her grow into the person she will become.
The Effects of Authoritative Parenting
Authoritative parenting, if done right, can have many advantages for both children and parents. Just to mention a few:
- Authoritative parenting encourages children to be independent. Since there are clear but well-explained rules and goals, the child can walk into any circumstance knowing who they are and what they can do. They do not follow the line because of fear but because they are excited about their future. This helps them to make decisions independently.
- The authoritative parenting style is flexible and can be adjusted based on the child’s age. Whereas many authoritarian parents maintain the same strained relationship with their kids even after they’ve become adults, authoritative parents can adjust the rules, limits, and even methods of communication as their children mature.
- Authoritative children are more successful and well-balanced. Studies have shown that the children of authoritative parents are socially more well-adjusted, well-behaved, and generally better academic performers than the children of parents using other parenting styles.
But there are a few negative sides you should be mindful of:
- Children can rebel. This is a disadvantage that is shared between authoritative and authoritarian parents, but it’s a fact that children often rebel regardless of their upbringing. With authoritative parents, the children typically start rebelling during their teenage years. This is mainly an attempt to see for themselves if their parents are right.
It’s crucial to understand that this is normal, and now is not the time to doubt your parenting style. Your child will get over the rebellious stage and come back to you once they’ve realized that you were right about the limitations you set for them.
- It’s challenging to be a perfectly authoritative parent. It’s difficult to be a parent in general, but authoritative parenting can often go against what we’re feeling. At times you may want to have an anger fit. You may not be in the mood for an intellectual discussion about the rules. But these are precisely the times that you must stay strong.
Even if you fail, you can also turn that into a valuable learning experience by admitting your mistakes to your child and explaining why they happened. It’s often good for a child to see that their parents are only human.
The Authoritative Parenting Style in Summary
Authoritative parents are focused on showing affection and encouragement at all times. They prefer to keep an open communication channel with their children and be accessible and available to them for guidance or anything that the child may need.
Significantly, though, all of this goes hand-in-hand with a healthy set of rules, guidelines, and goals. Your child must never feel that they can do whatever they want, but they must also understand why those rules are there and their implications.
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The authoritative and authoritarian parenting styles may sound similar in name, but they are vastly different in the way they are implemented and their expected outcomes. After years of studies conducted by various people from vastly different backgrounds, the evidence clearly proves that authoritative parenting is superior to all other parenting styles in almost every way.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.