Parenting Style 101
If you have teens or take care of them, there will be times when life feels like a balancing act. After all, how do you let your teens become more independent and take control of their lives when that could mean they make choices you disagree with? Then again, if you’re too heavy-handed or overbearing, will you push them away? Maybe you’ll tiptoe around a small issue in hopes of it not becoming larger. Or you’ll wonder exactly what you did that triggered them to be so publicly embarrassed. Life with teens is full of pushes and pulls. There are many ways parents can contribute to their teens having a feeling of control. But let’s ask first, how controlling are we as parents? We need to look at our own parenting style. To think about what’s been working and what hasn’t. With self-reflection and possible changes in our own actions come more power and better balance in parenting teens.
What’s Your Parenting Style?
Parents come from different cultures and have different value systems. These influences, along with past experiences, likely shape your parenting style. As you work to achieve your own parenting balance, it’s important to understand the four general styles of parenting. You may find one parenting style that typically describes you. But you also may discover depending on the day, the teen(s) and the situation, your choices reflect different styles.
- The Authoritarian Parent: For this parent, what they say goes. If you live in their house, you live by their rules. They are the ultimate authority. They don’t want their authority questioned by their adolescent child. Their word is final. An authoritarian parent might say: “You’ll do what I say. Why? Because I said so!”
- The Permissive Parent: A permissive parent may be involved and loving towards their teens, but instead of setting boundaries they treat their kids like friends. They may worry enforcing limits will lead to fights with their child. And if they fight, maybe their child won’t love them as much. So, they allow their teens to make decisions saying, “I trust you’ll make the right choice.” They cross their fingers and hope their teens will do what’s right. A permissive parent might say: “I really enjoy you. I know that if you think of me as a friend, you’ll feel comfortable coming to me. I will spend high-quality time with you, and I trust you to make your own decision.”
- The Disengaged Parent: “No time. Too busy. I’ve got to get this done first.” Disengaged parents generally have other things occupying their time than keeping a close eye on their children’s activities and whereabouts. Unless the children are in trouble, or even in danger, this parent is hands off. This parent doesn’t generally think they’ve got much influence over their teens. “They’ll do what they want to do, regardless of what I say.” But when major issues do occur, they may suddenly lay down the law, sending teens mixed messages. A disengaged parent might say: “Kids will be kids. I figure if they get into serious trouble I will get involved.”
And then there is:
- The Balanced (or Authoritative) Parent: This parent offers plenty of love and support. They have high expectations. Respectful behavior is encouraged. Sensible limits are set for their teens. Their relationships include open and honest communication. They want their kids to make their own choices and to become independent. They give their teenagers the freedom to express their own beliefs. But when there are big issues at stake, they step in and make the call. Authoritative parents offer a balance of support, encouragement, warmth, and involvement but they don’t hesitate to take over when a situation calls for it. A balanced parent might say: “I love you. I am not your friend, I am your parent, and that’s even better. I’m going to let you make your share of mistakes, but for the things that might affect your safety or morality, you’ll do as I say.”
Adjust if Needed
Now that you’ve read about these different styles of parenting, ask yourself which type you most resemble? If you feel you are most like the authoritarian, permissive or disengaged parents, we encourage you to move towards the more balanced style of the authoritative parent. Why do we suggest this? Because it creates children who are happy, healthy and successful. Here’s what we know.
Results of Balanced Parenting
We know balanced parenting works. Numerous studies done over several decades show parents who use a balanced or authoritative parenting style have teens who are better off. Among other findings, studies show:
- Improved school performance and academic success
- Higher self-esteem and less anxiety and depression
- More resilience
- Less drug use
- Delayed sexual activity and safer sex
- Less violence
- Less bullying
- Safer driving behaviors
Teens of authoritative parents tend to be healthier and more well-adjusted. The positive benefits of this kind of parenting last far into our teens’ future.
How Adolescents React
Kids growing up with authoritarian parents may listen and obey up to a point. If they become fed up, they may rebel against this style. If they’re not the rebellious type, they might be left to feel powerless to make their own choices and decisions. They could be left with a need to be controlled by others, even as they move into adulthood.
Teens raised in a permissive household may know they’re loved but still long for boundaries. They may be constantly worried about making the wrong choices and disappointing their parents. Or they may suffer a guilty conscience.
Kids who grow up with disengaged parents could end up in some of the worst scenarios of all. Teens may not understand the complexity of their parents’ lives or their competing demands. They are unlikely to interpret the hands-off approach as a vote of confidence in their growing independence. They may feel cast aside, ignored, or even neglected. Or choose to do things that get them attention. That could include worrisome behaviors or going to dangerous extremes to be noticed.
How Balanced Parenting Works
Showing love towards your teens and staying involved in their lives will likely make them more open to your guidance. Providing them structure through boundaries and letting them experience consequences helps teens learn to make good decisions. Keeping open lines of communication with them (2-way) gives them a chance to develop the skills they need to succeed outside of the family.
Give and Take
Pay attention and look for opportunities that allow teens to become more independent. Be warm, loving and involved but set and enforce clear limits. A positive give-and-take between you and your teens, as well as sharing the reasoning behind the decisions you make, will do more than help with your balancing act. It also helps teenagers develop their own decision-making skills.
Understand What’s Best for YOUR Teen
Teens are lumped together so often that sometimes it becomes easy to forget that every teen is different. Be aware of how your teen functions best. For example, does your teen need more discipline than others or less? Does your teen work well with more structure and scheduling or just want to get things done by a set deadline? Every situation is different as well. Friends, school, favorite activities and circumstances change constantly. If new risks crop up, keep an eye on them. If you are concerned, talk to your teen about why that’s the case. Perhaps you are parenting in a setting in which you need your teen to understand how to stay safe. You can be a “warm demander” who sets firm rules or boundaries but also gives the reasoning behind your decisions and communicates openly. While teens may say they don’t want to talk about it, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. All of this is about being a responsive parent – being flexible to meet their needs.
And Finally …
We have two key points we hope you’ll keep in mind.
- We all love our children. Our love is most protective for our teens when they know they are loved. Words matter.
- We all want to protect our children. We must monitor them to assure they stay within safe and moral boundaries. Our rules are most closely followed when our teens know why they exist.
Learning to balance love with rules, allows our teens to thrive and strengthens family relationships.