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My Way or the Highway Parenting Not Effective for Positive Child Behavior

Parenting Styles and Child Behavior

Parents often think that being extremely strict with their children will lead to better behavior. However research studies continue to show that authoritarian style parenting actually causes the opposite. A new study from the University of New Hampshire finds that parents who are non-flexible in their approach – “my way or the highway” as some would say – are more likely to have children who are disrespectful and delinquent.

A team of researchers led by Rick Trinkner, a doctoral candidate at UNH, analyzed data from the ongoing New Hampshire Youth Study which examines the psychological, sociological, developmental and legal factors that influence delinquency among middle and high school students. Data was collected over an 18-month period beginning in the fall of 2007.

The researchers evaluated three parenting styles: authoritative (demanding and controlling, but still receptive to children’s needs), permissive (non-demanding, non-controlling), and authoritarian (rules established unilaterally without explanation).

Authoritarian parenting styles tend to produce children who are discontent, withdrawn and distrustful. Trinkner notes that the adolescents are less likely to see their parents’ authority as legitimate so they are more likely to get into trouble. The parent-child relationship is also damaged, as authoritative parenting is based on fear which leads children to anger, depression, and loneliness.

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Of course, parenting at the other end of the spectrum is also detrimental to a child’s health and behavior. Permissive parents place few boundaries on their children so the kids are not self-reliant or self-controlled. “Kids want limits because they want someone to be in charge. It’s pretty terrifying to a child to think that no one is in charge, protecting them from what can be a terrifying world,” says Dr. Laura Markham, a Clinical Psychologist at Columbia University who was not involved with the study, but offers parenting advice at her website Aha! Parenting.

The most effective method of parenting children is known to child health experts as “authoritative” where rules are established and maintained, but there is bidirectional communication between the parent and child so that each has a say about the rules. These children most often grow up to be self-reliant, self-controlled and content. They are also more trusting of their parents and view them as legitimate authority figures. They follow the set rules even when their parents are not around, so they are less likely to be involved in delinquent behavior.

Parenting effectively depends upon our connection with our kids, says Dr. Markham. The benefits of this parenting style works in favor of both the parents and the children. For us as adults, we tend to be happier and more relaxed. Our kids will be better adjusted, will be considerate of others, and will be well-prepared for life as an adult.

Journal Reference:
Trinkner R, Cohn ES et al. Don’t trust anyone over 30: Parental legitimacy as a mediator between parenting style and changes in delinquent behavior over time. Journal of Adolescence, Volume 35, Issue 1, February 2012, Pages 119-132.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons