An Overview of Research on Balanced Parenting

What is Balanced Parenting?

Balanced parenting is a parenting style first described by scientists in the 1960s. It includes high warmth and support for your child along with appropriate monitoring and discipline. We sometimes use the words “authoritative” or “lighthouse” parenting instead of “balanced,” but they mean the same thing. There are three other types of parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, and disengaged.

How do we know that Balanced Parenting works?

We know this because decades of research with many different groups of parents and teenagers produce the same positive results. For example, an important study from 1991 shows that balanced parents who are supportive and have high expectations of their teens protect them from problem drinking. The same thing was found in a study published in 2014 and in many other studies. Some of these studies, like the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (or “Add Health”), show that balanced parenting improves results over time for teens.

The positive effects of balanced parenting have been found across teens who differ by race, gender, family income, and parents’ education. This means that families from diverse backgrounds experience similar benefits. So, we know balanced parenting works. However, it’s important to recognize that balanced parenting will look slightly different in each family. This is because every family has unique circumstances, including their cultural values, surrounding neighborhood, and available resources.

How do scientists research parenting styles?

Scientists often start by asking, “How does parenting style relate to a specific outcome in teens?” Scientists research outcomes such as grades, substance use, and driving behaviors, among many others. In most cases, they will ask hundreds or thousands of teens to answer survey questions.

These questions measure different parts of parenting style. For example, are their parents’ warm and supportive? Do they monitor their teen’s behaviors and set rules? Teens are asked to respond to several questions or statements to uncover their parents’ style.

Do you agree or disagree…

“My parents give me help and support when I need it.” is a good example of a typical survey question. Adolescents who disagree with this statement are describing low support from their parents. Adolescents who agree with this statement feel they have strong support from their parents.

Another example is, “In my family there are clear rules about what I can and cannot do.” Adolescents who disagree with this statement are describing low rule-setting from their parents. If several other questions reinforce this, their parents are likely authoritarian (“You’ll do as I say!”) or disengaged (“I don’t care, do what you want.”).

Next, the survey asks about the outcome the scientists are researching. Let’s use drinking alcohol as an example. Teens might be asked, “Over the past two weeks how many times have you had five or more drinks in a row?” If they report at least one instance of having five or more drinks, then that teen drinks heavily.

Scientists analyze the survey responses they receive from teens to see how parenting style relates to the outcome. Scientists can then state that teens whose parents use a balanced style are less likely to drink heavily than teens whose parents use one of the other three parenting styles.

About Andy Pool

Andrew Pool, Ph.D., M.Sc. is a Research Scientist at CPTC. He has a doctorate in Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Temple University.

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