The authoritarian parenting style is characterized by strict enforcement of rules, punitive discipline, and a “tough love” approach. Children are given few (if any opportunities) to express their opinions regarding rules and the parent offers few explanations.
This parenting style was first identified by Baumrind (1967) in his four parenting styles taxonomy. Many decades of research have documented a direct connection between the type of parenting style used by caregivers and the social and emotional development of children.
The authoritarian parenting style is linked to children being obedient, but socially and emotionally withdrawn.
The lack of a warm and nurturing environment makes it difficult for children to be comfortable expressing their feelings as they become older. This may cause them to seem aloof and distant by others (see also: authoritarian parenting effects).
Authoritarian Parenting Examples
- Strict Homework Times: The Smiths expect their children to do their homework immediately after school; it doesn’t matter if the kids feel tired and would like time to relax or play a little.
- Quick to Lose Household Privileges: Family rules are strictly enforced and even the slightest deviation can result in a stern scolding and the loss of household privileges.
- Growing up to be Emotionally Closed-Off: Tom has had a series of relationships in college, but his girlfriends keep breaking up with him because he refuses to talk open-up and talk about his feelings. This makes the relationship seem cold.
- Growing up to be Self-Disciplined: Jack is a serious, task-oriented leader that can get very angry if his team fails to meet a deadline or makes even the slightest, insignificant mistake.
- Children are Seen and not Heard: “Children should be seen and not heard” is the philosophy of the Williams’ house.
- Focus on the Bad (not the Good): Susan’s report card is examined thoroughly at the dinner table. The parents scold her for getting low grades in two subjects, but say nothing about the classes where she earned A’s.
- Lack of Children’s Agency: Every week the McDermont household holds a family meeting. The parents identify what the kids did wrong when carrying out their chores and give firm warnings about the consequences of making mistakes. There is no discussion.
- Growing up to be Distant: Michael has worked hard to reach a mid-level management position, but his staff always comment that he seems aloof and distant.
- Nitpicking About Rules: Tina is expected to be home by 11:00 p.m. on the weekends. If she is even one minute late, then she is grounded for 2 months.
- ‘No Excuses’ Parenting: Alice tried to explain why she didn’t give the family dog a bath over the weekend (she had a big report due at school on Monday and needed to work with her classmates on the project), but her parents refuse to hear any excuses.
1. Failure to Establish Moral Reasoning
According to Dr. Baumrind (1971), the use of power-oriented discipline that does not include explanation or justification can result in a kind of blind obedience to authority. Although this means a child’s behavior is compliant, it also fails to build a foundation of moral reasoning.
To examine this hypothesis, 150 families were selected for participation in a study on children enrolled in 13 nursery schools. Parental disciplinary practices were observed during two home-visits lasting 3 hours each, followed by structured interviews with both parents. This information was then compared to children’s behavior in a nursery school that included trained observers rating the children’s behavior throughout the day and in structured situations.
The results indicated that the children of authoritarian parents:
“…were not as socially responsible as those of authoritative parents who did encourage independence and verbal exchange” (Baumrind, 1971, p. 96).
As Baumrind explains,
“…frequent use of negative reinforcement, because it was not accompanied by use of reason to give legitimacy to their directives, should have been ineffectual in the production of socially responsible behavior relative to parents who used both reason and power” (p. 96).
2. Negative Social Outcomes for the Child
It takes two to parent. Although a lot of research on parenting styles has focused on one primary caregiver, a study by Kuppens and Ceulemans (2019) examined how congruence in parental behavioral control affects the social and emotional development of children.
The researchers utilized a database on 600 Flemish families with elementary-school aged children 8-10 years old. The parenting style of the parents were measured via a 19-item scale called the Ghent Parental Behavior Scale (Van Leeuwen & Vermulst, 2004).
This scale contained one subscale specifically oriented towards the use of harsh discipline that included applying physical punishment when children disobeyed. Another subscale was oriented towards parental supportive behavior. A sample question included: “I make time to listen to my child, when he/she wants to tell me something.”
According to the researchers:
“Children of authoritarian parents demonstrated more negative (i.e., hyperactivity, conduct problems, emotional symptoms) and less positive (i.e., prosocial behavior) child outcomes compared to children whose parents belonged to another parenting style” (p. 175).
3. Lower Cumulative Grade Point Averages for the Child
One cross-cultural study has found that authoritarian and permissive parenting styles have a negative correlation with cumulative grade point averages (CGPA) at school.
Psychological research has been criticized as being heavily focused on Western culture (see Science Daily). Western culture have different conceptions of “appropriate parenting” and the role of emotional expressiveness compared to some Asian cultures. Therefore, replicating studies from the West in other cultural contexts is essential to assess the cross-cultural validity of research.
Tanvir et al. (2016) conducted a study on parenting styles and academic achievement in Bahawalpur City, Pakistan. The participants were 80 students ranging in age from 17 to 22 years old at The Islamia University of Bahawalpur.
Participants responded to the Parental Authority Questionnaire (PAQ) developed by Buri (1991) regarding the actions of both mother and father. That data was then examined in relation to the participants’ CGPA (cumulative grade point average).
According to the researchers:
“…results conclude that there is a negative relationship between authoritarian parenting style and CGPA of children” (p. 37).
Additionally, this effect was true of both mother and father’s parenting style: “The authoritarian and permissive parenting style of both mother and father effects negatively on the CGPA” (p. 37).
4. Lower Sympathy Levels in the Child (Potential Hypothesis Only)
The authoritarian parenting style should have a direct effect on children’s prosocial behavior. For instance, when parents expect strict adherence to rules, but fail to provide an explanation as to the rationale behind the rules, it can interfere with a child’s development of moral reasoning. Additionally, because sympathy plays a role in helping others, the lack of emotional expression in authoritarian households could also disrupt the development of sympathy.
Carlo et al. (2007) examined the relation between parenting styles and prosocial behavior. Over 200 adolescents were administered questionnaires regarding their prosocial tendencies and the parenting practices and styles of their mother and father.
However, the results of this study were actually surprising. As stated by the authors:
“In general, we noted relatively few significant relations between parenting styles and prosocial behaviors, and no significant relations between parenting styles and sympathy” (p. 168).
Hypotheses are not always supported by the data. When this happens, one can usually identify several possibilities for the lack of significant results. In this study’s case, the reliance on questionnaire data is a severe limitation. Instead of conducting direct observations of parenting styles as exhibited by the parents themselves, this study relied on the perceptions of the adolescents. In addition, self-reports of how one would respond to a hypothetical prosocial situation is also problematic.
Thus, more research is required to confirm this hypothesis.
5. The Child Tends to Externalize Problems (Lash Out)
Externalizing problems include hyperactivity, rule-breaking, and aggression. Internalizing problems include anxiety, withdrawal and depression. This study, which took place in Japan, provides another cross-cultural comparison of Western and Eastern research. Even though there may be differences in the definition of “best parenting practices,” it is still possible to conduct objective research and examine children’s development.
Hosokawa and Katsura (2018) studied 1,668 Japanese children in 52 kindergartens and 72 nursery schools. Parenting styles were assessed with the Japanese version of the Parenting Scale (PS) when the children were 5 years old.
Children’s behavioral problems were assessed approximately one year later with the Japanese version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) when the children were in first grade.
The results demonstrated:
“…a clear relationship between discipline styles in preschool for ﬁve-year-old children and behavioral problems in ﬁrst grade for six-year-old children” (p. 10). More specifically, “…authoritarian discipline was found to be related to externalizing problems in both boys and girls…” (p. 10).
These findings are consistent with Baumrind’s theory regarding parenting styles and their effects on children’s behavioral profile.
The authoritarian parenting style is firm and punitive. Rules are strictly enforced and there is little to no discussion with the children. This means that children never develop an understanding of why the rules exist and the rationale behind the discipline.
Unfortunately, this creates some characteristics in children that may not be ideal. For example, because there is little discussion about the basis for rules, children can have difficulty developing a sense of social responsibility.
Because their feelings and opinions are not encouraged or allowed to be expressed, children can become cold and distant adults. This can make it difficult to maintain healthy, long-term romantic relationships.
Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75(1), 43–88.
Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology Monographs, 4, 1-103.
Buri J. R. (1991). Parental authority questionnaire. Journal of Personality Assessment, 57(1), 110–119. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327752jpa5701_13
Carlo, G., McGinley, M., Hayes, R., Batenhorst, C., & Wilkinson, J. (2007). Parenting styles or practices? Parenting, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors among adolescents. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 168(2). 147-76. https://doi.org/10.3200/GNTP.168.2.147-176
Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X
Hosokawa, R., & Katsura, T. (2018). Role of parenting style in children’s behavioral problems through the transition from preschool to elementary school according to gender in Japan. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(1), 21. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16010021
Kuppens, S., & Ceulemans, E. (2019). Parenting Styles: A Closer Look at a Well-Known Concept. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(1), 168–181. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x
Tanvir, M., Khurram, F., Khizer, U., & Fayyaz, S. (2016). Parenting style and its effects on academic achievement of children. International SAMANM Journal of Business and Social Sciences, 4(1), 30-42. Van Leeuwen, K. G., & Vermulst, A. (2004). Some psychometric properties of the Ghent Parental Behavior Scale. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 20, 283–298. https://doi.org/10.1027/1015-57188.8.131.523