The permissive parenting style is warm and loving, but involves few expectations or demands. The parents display an affection for the child that is more like a friendship than a parenting role.
Because they provide very few rules or guidelines regarding their child’s behavior, it creates an environment where children can do as they please. Confrontation is avoided in favor of bribery to gain compliance.
Permissive Parenting: What is It?
The permissive parenting style was first identified by Baumrind (1967) as one of several types of parenting styles postulated to affect a child’s social and emotional development.
The last 60 years of research have consistently confirmed Baumrind’s early theorizing, with some modifications along the way.
Children raised in a permissive household lack motivation and drive to do well in school. They tend to be less focused on goals and often make poor decisions when it comes to delinquent behavior or time management.
Because they have not been taught the value of emotional control and self-regulation, they can get easily upset and aggressive when not getting their way.
Permissive Parenting Style Examples
- Not enforcing a homework rule: Mark and Penny love their children so much that they hate to see them drudge through homework night after night. So, they usually let the kids play after school and enjoy life, as kids should.
- Not having rules at all: The Johnson family has very few rules and even the ones they have are rarely enforced.
- Children grow up to be self-centered: Susan is friendly and outgoing, but has trouble staying in a relationship because she will break-up with a boyfriend quickly if she doesn’t get her way.
- Children grow up to have poor leadership skills: Jack enjoys being in a leadership position. He likes his team a lot and often hangs out with them socially. When they under-perform, he rarely rebukes them because he values their friendship more than anything.
- Parents don’t follow through with rules: Becky will often tell her two children that if they don’t behave, they can’t watch television that night. But the kids know she will give in eventually and let them do what they want.
- Parents don’t show concern for students’ grades at school: Susan’s parents have not looked at her report card in years. Every time she brings it home, it just sits on the kitchen counter for days and so eventually she just throws it away.
- Parents don’t have family meetings: When the McDermonts found out that their neighbors have family meetings to talk about chores and establish rules, they laughed and joked that it sounded more like a military academy than a home with children.
- Children grow up to be disrespected by peers and inferiors: Michael was promoted to a leadership position last year, but his team’s productivity dropped almost immediately. The staff lost respect for his authority because he never invoked consequences when they missed deadlines or made careless mistakes.
- Parents don’t set a curfew: Tina can come home anytime she wants on the weekends so she often stays out all night and sleeps through the day.
- Parents are friends rather than authority figures: Alice’s mom loves to chat with her about relationships and things that happen at school involving her classmates.
Examples of Studies on the Permissive Parenting Style
1. Children of Permissive Parents tend to Lack Social Responsibility
Baumrind, the person who came up with the four parenting styles, found that children of permissive parents tended to lack social responsibility and were less achievement-oriented.
Dr. Baumrind’s (1971) research on parenting styles and social responsibility is often cited because of her identification of additional parenting styles (neglectful and harmonious). In regards to permissive parenting, the study focused on how parenting style affects social responsibility and achievement motivation.
The study involved 150 families with children in 13 nursery schools. The disciplinary practices of parents were assessed through the ratings of trained observers during two home visits lasting 3 hours each. The parents also participated in a structured interview to gain additional insights into their parenting styles.
That data was then examined in relation to children’s behavior at school that also included ratings by trained observers.
The results were clearer for boys than girls. For example, “Sons of permissive parents were lacking in social responsibility relative to sons of authoritative…were somewhat less purposive than sons of authoritative parents, and significantly less independent…” (p. 92).
Because permissive parents did not invoke consequences for negative behavior and generally tried not to interfere, these children “…were more resistive, and less achievement-oriented than children of authoritative parents who were consistently firm in their enforcement policies” (p. 96).
2. Children of Permissive Parents are Highly Physical Active
One study found that children of permissive parents tend to have the highest amounts of physical activity – these results are rather surprising! I’d like to see another study on this.
Hennessy et al. (2010) conducted a study to better understand the role of parenting styles on children’s physical activity. Four schools were selected at random in several rural regions across the U.S. Approximately 20-25 parent/child dyads participated from each school, The children ranged in age from 6-11 years old.
Parenting styles were assessed with a self-report questionnaire which has established reliability and validity. Physical activity was measured by children wearing an accelerometer on their right hip.
The results were a bit surprising: “…permissive parenting style was associated with the most minutes of child physical activity and uninvolved parenting style the least” (p. 79).
3. Parenting Styles and Academic Performance
Cross-cultural studies of parenting styles have found that children of permissive parents tend to have lower grade point averages than their counterparts. This has been conducted across several cultures, making it a very interesting finding. The study is discussed below.
As reported by Science Daily, a vast majority of psychological research is conducted in the West. This means that one must question the generalizability of results to other cultures. For instance, Western and Eastern cultures may have quite different views on what constitutes “appropriate parenting.”
Parents may differ in regard to their achievement expectations, encouragement of emotional expressiveness, and acceptance of open discussion. Therefore, it is essential that psychological research be conducted in cross-cultural settings.
This is exactly what was accomplished in the study by Tanvir et al. (2016). The researchers assessed the parenting styles of students’ parents and compared that with their level of academic achievement.
The study involved 80 students enrolled at The Islamia University of Bahawalpur in Pakistan.
Students responded to the Parental Authority Questionnaire (PAQ; Buri, 1991) pertaining to the parenting styles of both mother and father. Students also indicated their CGPA (cumulative grade point average).
According to the researchers: “…permissive parenting style of both mother and father effects negatively on the CGPA” (p. 37).
As predicted, a permissive parenting style, which involves placing few demands on children, had a negative effect on students’ academic performance.
4. Children of Permissive Parents Lack Self-Regulation Skills
Studies have found that permissive parenting strongly correlates with poor self-regulation skills in children.
Children lacking self-regulation skills have difficulties controlling their emotions, cognitions and behavior. This can lead to problems in forming relationships with peers and teachers, attaining academic success, and negotiating the social world around them. Therefore, it is important to understand the factors involved in children’s ability to develop self-regulation skills.
Piotrowski et al. (2013) conducted a study to examine the role of parenting styles on the development of self-regulation. The researchers hired a private survey research firm to conduct telephone interviews of 1,141 families.
Parents were asked a series of questions that assessed household demographics, one child’s self-regulation skills, and parenting style.
Through a series of complicated statistical analyses, the researchers were able to identify which variables measured were the best predictors of self-regulation. The results were consistent with the hypothesis that parents that place few demands on their children would struggle with self-regulation.
The results revealed that “Not only was permissive parenting linked to greater struggles with self-regulation…it was the most powerful variable in the model” (p. 434).
5. Boys of Permissive Parents Exhibit High Externalizing Behaviors
Externalizing behaviors are behaviors like acting out, yelling at others, and getting into physical altercations. It appears that boys with permissive parents tend to have high externalizing behaviors.
Behavioral problems in children probably exist in every culture. Externalizing problems include rule-breaking and aggression, while internalizing problems include withdrawal and depression.
Given the preponderance of research on parenting styles and the significant impact on children in the West, it would be interesting to see if similar results are found in other cultural contexts.
Hosokawa and Katsura, (2018) carried out a study on how parenting styles of mothers and fathers affected the behavioral profile of young boys and girls. The study involved 1,668 Japanese children in 52 kindergartens and 72 nursery schools.
First, a Japanese version of the Parenting Scale (PS) was administered to parents when their children were 5 years old. One year later, the children’s behavior was assessed using a Japanese version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).
The results demonstrated a “…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, “…permissive discipline was related to externalizing problems only in boys” (p. 10).
These findings provide a cross-cultural replication of similar studies conducted in the West.
The permissive parenting style is characterized by lax standards but a warm and caring environment. Rules are rarely enforced and parents place very few demands on their child’s behavior.
This means that children have very little need to develop self-discipline or strive academically. That could lead to difficulties with grades and a reluctance to obey rules at school.
Several studies reviewed above have confirmed these predictions. Permissive parenting has been linked to a lower sense of social responsibility in the U.S., decreased academic performance in Pakistan, and behavioral problems in boys in Japan.
Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75, 43–88. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1037/h0024919
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
Hennessy, E., Hughes, S. O., Goldberg, J. P., Hyatt, R. R., & Economos, C. D. (2010). Parent-child interactions and objectively measured child physical activity: A cross-sectional study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 7, 71. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-7-71
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
Piotrowski, J. T., Lapierre, M. A., & Linebarger, D. L. (2013). Investigating correlates of self-regulation in early childhood with a representative sample of English-speaking American families. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 22(3), 423–436. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-012-9595-z
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/10.1027/1015-57220.127.116.113