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What Is 'Authoritarian Parenting'?
  • Posted June 9, 2023

What Is 'Authoritarian Parenting'?

Understanding different parenting styles can help you pick the right one as you navigate the challenges of child-rearing.

Here, experts explain what an authoritarian parenting style is, examples of authoritarian parenting techniques, and what authoritarian discipline looks like. You'll also discover how this style compares to authoritative parenting.

What is authoritarian parenting?

“Authoritarian parenting is characterized by high levels of structure and expectation, but very little affection and nurturing,” Jeff Jack, a counselor at Westside Behavioral Health in Ohio, told HealthDay. “The imbalance of these traits typically creates a parent who is more forceful with their expectations and less open to negotiation with their child.”

Michigan State University notes that authoritarian parents leave little room for their children to discuss alternative viewpoints. It's centered around ensuring obedience, rather than providing nurturing and support.

What is the authoritarian parenting style like?

According to StatPearls, authoritarian parenting practices include:

  • Engaging in one-way conversations
  • Enforcing strict rules
  • Setting firm expectations that don't allow for mistakes
  • Rejecting input from children about their wants, needs and desires

“‘What I say goes, no exceptions' might be considered as an unofficial catch phrase of this parenting style,” said Jack.

Authoritarian parenting examples

The Cleveland Clinic says that one example of using authoritarian parenting to your advantage is when your child is running towards a busy street. Being firm and only concerned about stopping them is key to keeping them safe in this situation. It's not the time to worry about how they feel or about their desire to get to the other side of the street.

Jack provides an example of when authoritarian parenting may not be the best option. In this scenario, a 12-year-old boy who has trouble making friends is invited to a Friday sleepover. However, they have a science project due on Monday they haven't yet begun.

“The authoritarian parent may choose to impose a strict limit here, stating that ‘you aren't going anywhere until your project is done,'” said Jack. “The child is unhappy with this ruling, but ultimately is fearful to challenge this parent, who has a history of rigidly imposing boundaries.”

Jack noted that, because the boy's social and emotional needs weren't balanced with their academic needs, over time “the child's disdain towards their parents' harsh limit setting grows, deepening the schism in their parent/child relationship.”

Mental health problems may also be an issue when harsh parenting discipline is employed, according to a study of over 7,500 Irish children published recently in the Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences journal. Researchers found that children who were parented with harsh discipline were one and a half times more likely to have mental health symptoms by age 9 than children who weren't.

Authoritarian parenting discipline

Discipline in authoritarian parenting is focused on punishment, with the aim of strictly reinforcing unquestioning obedience to the rules and dictates of the parent, according to Michigan State University. There's little to no room for compromise, negotiation, affection or discussion.

Jack used the sleepover example again to explain how this inflexible mindset can have unintended, negative results. When the same 12-year-old gets another call from their classmate about attending a second Friday sleepover, the child becomes “fearful that their parents will say ‘no' again, [so] the child lies, stating that they have no homework this weekend.”

Authoritative vs. authoritarian parenting: What's the difference?

According to University of California, Los Angeles, the two parenting styles have different demand and response levels. Authoritarian parents are highly demanding and expect unquestioning compliance with their boundaries and rules. They also show low responsiveness to the wants and needs of their children.

During adulthood, children raised with this style of parenting may show:

  • Lack of social ability
  • Dependence on others
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty making choices
  • Self-control issues

In contrast, parents who practice the authoritative style of parenting have moderate demand levels and high response levels.

The Cleveland Clinic notes that authoritarian parenting may be a good style to use to keep your child safe, but it isn't generally considered an ideal long-term parenting strategy.

“Situations in life can be highly unpredictable and at times will call for parents to be flexible in their approaches,” Jack told HealthDay. “Some situations will be best handled by setting firm limits without negotiation ('No! you cannot play by the street'), while others may be best handled with a focus on nurturing (being emotionally present with a child who has a meltdown due to extreme anxiety).”

“While the parenting tactics needed will ebb and flow, it is the authoritative [parent] who wields the capacity to choose the correct response to each situation,” he added.

SOURCE: Jeff Jack, counselor, Westside Behavioral Health, Westlake, Ohio

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