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What is Authoritarian Parenting?

By Emma Davies


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Did you grow up in a house with strict rules and harsh discipline? Did your parents have high expectations, little patience, and a cold manner? If so, there’s a good chance you were raised by authoritarian parents – but what is authoritarian parenting? This style of raising children relies heavily on strict rules, values, discipline, and control, with very little if any thought for showing children mutual respect, nurture, or warmth.

This style of parenting sounds very cold and could even be considered as old fashioned and out of date. But is there a place for this type of parenting in a modern world or at least aspects of it?

Authoritarian parenting

Authoritarian Parenting Definition

Psychologist Diana Baumrind researched parenting in the 1960s and discovered that parents could be categorized into four different styles:

According to this research, authoritarian parents are defined as those who have high expectations of their children. But do very little to nurture and guide them toward the correct behavior. Parents in this category may use phrases like ‘do as I say’, ‘because I said so’, ‘you never do anything right’, and ‘children should be seen and not heard’.

Authoritarian parents are the most controlling and have a strong focus on getting children to do as they are told in any way possible. Enforcing respect for authority is more important than showing their own children love and respect. The authoritarian parenting style can have several negative effects on children as they grow.

Think of The Trunchbull from Matilda, she speaks to the children in an extreme authoritarian manner. This type of parenting style is often associated with that from decades ago and most parents do not want this type of relationship with their children.

Traits of Authoritarian Parents

There are many different authoritarian parent characteristics. It is important to remember that all parents are different and a person does not need to have every single trait to fall into this category. That being said, the main two characteristics of authoritarian parents are that they are controlling and strict.

Here are the common traits associated with authoritarian parents:

  • A cold and aloof manner.
  • Uses harsh discipline (this may include spanking, which is not advised).
  • Has little patience and doesn’t provide an explanation as to why certain behavior is expected.
  • Enforces lots of rules and demands on their children.
  • Are not nurturing, encouraging, or supportive.
  • Are unlikely to use positive reinforcement and praise.
  • Have a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude and give children few opportunities to make their own decisions.
  • Highly critical and use shaming as a method to control their children’s behavior.
  • Believe controlling children’s behavior is more important than allowing them to experience a fun and free childhood.
  • They will expect their children to perform well at school but are unlikely to support them in a loving way by helping with homework or reading with them.
  • Will often avoid discussing their children’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions, believing that they are not important or relevant.

Examples of Authoritarian Parents

If you were raised by authoritarian parents, you were no doubt nodding along while reading that list of character traits. You may also have been having some not so nice memories of your own childhood. This type of parenting style is often passed on from one generation to the next or it can be linked to certain personality profiles.

Whatever the cause, authoritarian parenting can be problematic and is not considered to be the best parenting style.

For those of you who were lucky enough to not grow up with authoritarian parents, or are still unsure what this parenting style involves, here are some examples of authoritarian parenting:

  • Children are expected to get straight A’s at school. Authoritarian parents will not care how hard their child is working or how their high expectations are impacting their child’s mental well being. Instead, these parents will expect their children to get full marks on every test and may even discipline them if they don’t. It is very much a case of no matter how well their children do they will never be good enough.
  • An authoritative parent will expect high levels of behavior and will be hasty to use discipline when their expectations are not met. For example, a strict Dad expects his five year old to eat everything on their plate at mealtimes. Even if the child is full, an authoritative parent will use harsh consequences if their child fails to finish their meal.
  • A parent tells their child they are not allowed to play outside after school. When the child asks why, an authoritarian parent will use phrases such as ‘because I said so’ or ‘my house my rules’.
  • When a child brings home their school report card, their parent focuses on the negative feedback and ignores any praise. Instead of congratulating their child on their good results, they instead focus on the failed tests and shame their child into doing better next time, which rarely works.
  • When a parent makes a demand but a child fails to meet it, authoritarian parents will not listen to excuses. Regardless of whether a child has a genuine reason why they could not complete a task or follow a certain rule, their parents will not listen.

How Does Authoritarian Parenting Style Affect Children?

There are many ways authoritarian parenting can negatively affect a child from their day-to-day life all the way through to their interactions with others as well as their own mental well being.

Parents may think they are doing the right thing by using this parenting style, but research has shown this approach can do more harm than good to our children.

Every parenting style has its pros and cons and often parents are heavily influenced by their own upbringing. Here are the positive and negative ways that this parenting style can impact children, both in childhood and their adult life.

Positive Effects

  • Good at following rules – Children raised with strict rules often have no problem following rules in the workplace or at school.
  • Respect for authoritative figures – After being forced to obey their parents growing up, children of authoritarian parents often have no problem showing respect to other people in positions of power and authority.
  • Less likely to take risks – Research suggests children of authoritarian parents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse, or unsocial behaviors.

Negative Effects

  • This parenting style can make it difficult for children to form loving relationships in their adult life. Instead of valuing kindness and affection, children of authoritarian parents may associate love with obedience, high achievements, and success. This can be especially dangerous for females and can often lead to choosing partners that are controlling and disrespectful.
  • Children of authoritarian parents can become anxious, depressed, and emotionally withdrawn. As their feelings and emotions were never considered when they were young, these children can grow up thinking their opinions are not valued and their feelings don’t matter.
  • This parenting style can lead to children lacking self-discipline and problem-solving skills, as they were forced to obey rules with little explanation. Without the chance to make mistakes and learn from their failures, children of authoritarian parents tend to struggle with setting their own limits and boundaries.
  • Growing up with aloof and cold parents can cause children to develop a similar attitude. Without ever learning what a warm and loving relationship looks like, children may struggle to maintain meaningful connections with others as they grow up.
  • Children can be more prone to aggressive behavior, struggle with low self esteem, and may become rebellious when going through adolescence. Strict and controlling parenting can lead to pushback during their teen years. Young adults may break as many rules as possible the second that they move out of the family home and are free to do as they, please. This can lead to them putting themselves in dangerous situations.

Changing Your Parenting Style For the Better

If we were raising a generation of robots, it’s clear that an authoritarian parenting style would deliver excellent results. But parents aren’t raising robots, they are bringing up human beings with their own thoughts, feelings, opinions, and experiences.

The authoritarian parenting style leaves children with little opportunity to be independent or to express their opinions and share their feelings. Instead, this parenting style is all about conformity and control.

Authoritarian parents have high expectations, are not shy when it comes to dishing out discipline and often enforce a long list of rules (sometimes not even telling their children what the rules are or why they are in place). Psychologists believe that authoritative parenting is the best approach to raising children. Unlike authoritarian style parenting, authoritative parenting strikes a fair balance between freedom and discipline.

To create a happier household and raise better adjusted kids, there are steps authoritarian parents can take to change their parenting style for the better. If you want to become a fairer and more respectful parent, the following tips may be helpful:

  • Listen to your children and try to practice empathy and patience whenever possible. Seeing your children as people with their own thoughts and feelings, instead of trying to control them, can help to strengthen your bond and develop better lines of communication. These will be key when your children are going through those difficult teenage years and need to feel like they can talk to you about anything.
  • Create a list of household rules and share it with your children. Explain to them why the rules are in place and let them know what the consequences of breaking those rules are. Make sure you are firm yet fair and avoid turning to harsh discipline when it isn’t necessary. Remember it is completely normal to get some push back from these rules and shows you are raising children who have a mind of their own.
  • Research authoritative parenting. It is widely accepted that authoritative parenting is the ideal way to raise most children. But remember that children will often test their parents and they certainly do not come with a ‘How To Guide’, so be prepared that mistakes will be made on both sides. Spend some time learning more about this parenting style and try to adjust your own methods to match those used by parents using this style. Authoritative parenting focuses on fostering independence through a nurturing, warm and loving approach, instead of relying on strict rules and punishment.
  • Go to parenting classes, and get support. Parenting isn’t the easiest of roles we take on as adults and if you were raised by authoritarian parents, it can be difficult to see another way. A family therapist or parenting course can help you to learn different parenting strategies and unlearn the harmful techniques that have been passed down through the generations.

Authoritarian Parenting – Right or Wrong?

Authoritarian parenting can be effective when it comes to getting children to do as they are told in the short term, but often this obedience comes at a cost. We could potentially end up with a generation that is unable to think for themselves or control their own behavior. A generation that believes their opinions and feelings are not important.

If you think you are an authoritarian parent, you may want to adapt and change your approach. There are many other parenting techniques that are known to have more positive outcomes for your children now and in the future.

There is a lot more to parenting than simply controlling a child’s behavior. Often we need to be the parent that that individual needs and not the parent that we think they should need. This is often difficult and mistakes are made on both sides, but working with your children will help to build a bond based on mutual respect and love.

About Emma Davies

Emma Davies is a freelance writer that specializes parenting and animal topics. With over 20 years experience as a parent there are very few topics that faze her.

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