Comparison of Parenting Theories

Unfortunately, children don’t come with instruction manuals, and parents are left to explore the many different theories of child rearing. Theories and parenting models go by so many names, it can seem overwhelming, but these theories can be categorized into basic parenting styles. According to the Education Resource Information Center, parenting theories can be grouped into four distinct styles: authoritarian, authoritative, indulgent and uninvolved 2.


Authoritarian parents are often considered “strict” parents, or those who place high demands on their children. These families have a high level of parental control; rules and obedience are valued over independence and freedom. At the same time, parents are less responsive to children’s personal feelings and opinions. Parents are seen as the ultimate authority because they feel this hierarchy is in the child’s best interest. Biological anthropologist Dr. Gwen Dewar of says that children raised by authoritarian parents are usually more obedient than children raised by permissive or unengaged parents; however, this type of parenting may put kids at risk for other problems like low self-esteem, anxiety and impaired social skills 25.


Authoritative parents place demands on children with rules and structure; however, they also respond to children with kindness and understanding and are more willing to listen to and negotiate with children. Rather than exerting total control, authoritarian parents strive to set reasonable rules and boundaries while listening to children and trying to understand their feelings and needs. Rather than expecting blind obedience, the goal is to foster cooperation, self-control and respect for rules and boundaries. In an interview with Aspen Education Group, boarding school therapist Dr. Rosemary Christoph refers to authoritative parenting as "individuated parenting" and sees this style as a marriage of the best qualities of authoritarian and indulgent parenting 2. This balanced approach promotes a healthy sense of self-esteem, good behavior and fosters positive social skills.


Also known as "permissive parenting," this parenting style emphasizes responsiveness to a child’s feelings and needs 5. Rules, structure and consequences are de-emphasized, and may be absent completely. The goal is to offer unconditional love and nurturing. Permissive parents believe that children learn best through experience and are best guided by example and through support from parents. While some parents boast of success with indulgent methods, not many child experts advocate these theories. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham of Aha!, reasonable limits are necessary for healthy emotional development. Lack of limits can result in poor self-management skills, lack of self-control or consideration for others and, in some cases, harmful consequences.


Uninvolved parenting, also known as "disengaged parenting," is a style where the parent is neither controlling nor responsive to the child's need. Uninvolved parents do not set any expectations in regards to a child's behavior. They also do not give children much attention or affection. Uninvolved parents are often too wrapped up in their own interests or have too many problems to focus on the children. Indifference can sometimes cross the line into neglect and rejection. Of all the parenting styles, the University of Minnesota Extension reports that children of uninvolved parents show poor performance in all domains.