The Four Parenting Styles

The Four Parenting Styles

by Craig Smith

Dr Diana Baumrind, Research Psychologist with the Institute of Human Development at the University of California (Berkeley) and others describe in very useful terms four basic parenting styles. These each involve combinations of acceptance / responsiveness / support on the one hand, and demands / controls / monitoring on the other.

Supporting Unsupporting








The authoritarian style, where monitoring is high and support low, gives complete authority to the parent, who dictates how the children will behave. It tends to be less effective in the teenage years, because there is no negotiation. It relies totally on the recipient recognising the greater authority of the parent.1 It is a restrictive, punitive style, allows little verbal exchange, and can be associated with social incompetence in children: they are anxious about social comparison, fail to initiate activity and have poor communication skills.2

The best meaning home educating parents in the world can fall into a pattern of authoritarian parenting because of feeling pressured to perform. A strict adherence to a packaged curriculum, demanding a minimum number of pages to be done each day, can cause parents to feel they need to keep the children working and performing at all times, especially when combined with unrealistic expectations in other areas such as educational outings, lessons of various kinds or even social commitments or fastidious housekeeping. Such folks may have lost sight of the prime advantage and opportunity of home education: to enable your children to interact with you all day, rather than with a book. Vast amounts of knowledge and wisdom as well as important attitudes and values are communicated most efficiently when you feel comfortable just sitting for an hour talking with the children about whatever subject comes up.

The indulgent or permissive style sees parents who are highly involved with their children, but who place few demands or controls on them: support is high and monitoring low. Children have great freedom, and few or no boundaries. Indulgent parenting is also associated with children’s social incompetence, especially a lack of self-control. Children may always expect to get their own way. Some parents deliberately rear their children in this way because they believe the combination of warm involvement with few restraints will produce a creative, confident child.2 While young people need more from their own parents, the indulgent style can be a very useful one for a step-parent.1

Probably few Christian home educators would be in this group since Christianity is a faith of discipleship which means self-discipline and submitting to higher authorities. However, with today’s negative worldly attitudes toward work and responsibility, parents may unwittingly be letting their children down in the area of discipline because they are so interested, committed to and involved in their children’s activities. It is the Christian parent’s duty before God to shoulder the hard and at times unpleasant task of training and disciplining their children to abandon the ways of folly which are bound up in the heart (Proverbs 22:15) and to walk according to God’s word.

The neglectful parenting style, where both monitoring and support are low, where parents are very uninvolved in the child’s life, perhaps absorbed in their own troubles, and children may be left to bring themselves up, is also associated with social incompetence in children, especially a lack of self-control.2 There is no discipline of the children, and no interest in them either. This is the most harmful. The children rightfully feel neglected because no one notices when they are in over their heads with no lifeline to haul them back.1

This is the caricature of a home educator our enemies like to portray. Such neglectful parents, of course, are the least likely to want their children hanging around them all day when the schools will occupy them for at least six hours a day, and often more, plus probably feed them into the bargain.

The authoritative parenting style, where monitoring and support are high, encourages children to be independent but still places limits and controls on their actions. Extensive verbal give-and-take is allowed, and parents are warm and nurturant toward the child. Such children are generally socially competent, self-reliant nd socially responsible.2

This is what home education, tutoring, mentoring is all about. Parents know they have the goods to pass on to their children and are confident in their ability — as well as committed to their duty before God — to do so. I Thessalonians  2:9-12 talks of the hard work, the good example and the lofty goal the Apostle Paul had for the Thessalonians as he nurtured them first as babes, encouraged them as peers and finally charged them as mature Christians to carry on faithfully in his absence. It is our job to do likewise with the next generation.


1. From NZ Herald, 31 July 2002, Suzanne Innes-Kent, relationships consultant, author and broadcaster,

2. From Life-Span Development, John W. Santrock, University of Texas, 1997, Brown & Benchmark.

From Keystone Magazine
September 2002 , Vol. VIII No. 5
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