Authoritarian parenting

Just as in other aspects of life, parents have choices when it comes to raising their child. Many parenting styles have emerged over the years, but essentially three main ones have stood the test of time.

These are:

  • Authoritarian Parenting
  • Authoritative Parenting
  • Permissive/Neglectful Parenting

Many factors influence children. It is clear that their individual qualities have as much to do with how they evolve into adults as other causes. Their home environment, gender, genetics, personality, temperament and early life experiences all play important roles.

Parents do impact on their child’s development but exactly how much is still unclear. Even children who are genetically similar and who received the same parenting, such as siblings, can emerge very differently as adults. Ultimately, it seems that a child’s personality and resilience plays a major role in how they are shaped by their early life.

No matter what parenting style is used there are some very important factors which link parenting approaches and how these affect children. How children are disciplined, the degree of parental warmth and nurturing, communication, and the parents? expectations of their child are all important (Diana Baumrind). Based on how much, or how little of these factors the child is exposed to will determine which parenting style will emerge.

Authoritarian parenting – what is it?

Authoritarian parents see their way as the only way. They tend to be strict, regimented and ultimately in control of their children all of the time. They see their child’s behaviour as permanently being being under their control. Authoritarian parents have a tendency to develop strict rules which they expect the child to adhere to. Having an alternative point of view or being open to a little flexibility just isn’t on their radar. When the child fails to comply with their parent’s strict rules, there is usually some form of punishment.

Characteristics of authoritarian parents

  • Rules are set and the child is expected to stick by them.
  • Punishment is metered out for failure to adhere to the rules.
  • There is no leniency or allowance made for the child. They are expected to “be good” and do as the parent wishes all of the time.
  • The child’s opinions are not considered important.
  • The parent tends to be goal oriented and task focused.
  • Domination is common so there is an unequal power balance.
  • Fear, guilt, anxiety and obligation to meet their parent’s expectations motivate the child.
  • The parent expects their wishes to be carried out “because I said so”.
  • Tend to have been parented in the same way and not know there is an alternative. Can also come from a permissive parenting style and want more control over their own children.
  • Tend to meter out punishment which is harsh and punitive. Can be very stern about minor issues and overreact over the smallest of things.
  • Tend to extend this control into their other relationships.
  • Often hold positions of power in their workplace or alternately, feel as if they are being overlooked for managerial positions. Having this authority at home is seen as a substitute.

Tell me more about authoritarian parents – NOW!

Authoritarian parents tend to be the exact opposite of permissive parents. They seek to control their children’s every move and action, and they fear that by relinquishing control their child may develop qualities not up to their exacting standards. They see parental influence as all powerful and the child’s individuality as unimportant.

Authoritarian parents also see their children’s successes in life as a direct result of their control. The parent’s sense of identity is strongly based on their child’s achievements and successes. It is common for them to boast about their children’s attainments and exhibit competitiveness and jealousy if they feel their child is being challenged by another.

Risks of authoritarian parenting

  • Exhausting to sustain, for both the parent and the child.
  • Once the child is mature enough to make up their own mind, they tend to break away from their parents and forge their own identity. “Going off the rails” can be more common once firm restraints are off.
  • Lower self esteem for the child.
  • The child does not develop skills in self discipline and judgement because this has been outsourced by their parent. Even the most minor decisions take on gigantic proportions.
  • Higher incidence of bullying in children who are raised by authoritarian parents. This is because fear has replaced empathy as a motivator for their behaviour.
  • Increased incidence of anger and depression in children.
  • Suppresses the child’s creativity – they become little templates for what the parent wants rather than capturing their own potential.
  • Denies the child their right for individual expression. This is a democratic human right.
  • Doesn’t acknowledge that the parent could possibly be wrong.
  • The child can become very dishonest. This stems from only “behaving” when being observed rather than learning self control.
  • Children of authoritarian parents tend to equate their own success with love. Not feeling “good enough” or warrant parental love is common.
  • Suppresses parental nurturing and communication. Both of these are essential influences supporting mental health.
  • Risk of blind acceptance for authority when older. Lack of ability to question why and be able to weigh up what is right for them.
  • Academic results can eclipse other aspects of the child’s social and emotional development.
  • Suppresses the child’s ability to regulate their own emotions; an essential, lifelong skill.
  • Higher risk of the child running away as soon as they can to escape the pressures of the family home.
  • Reduces the chances of having a healthy emotional connection with the child when an adult.
  • Increased risk of becoming overweight when an adult. Inability to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with people can extend to food as well.
  • The child does not develop as a whole person. One or two aspects of their competence overshadow everything else so there is a lack of balance within their lives.

Yes, but does it work?

Authoritarian parenting does not work. Although it can make parents feel better in the short term it does nothing for building and sustaining healthy, long term relationships. It is only possible to be authoritarian when children are small and more compliant. There comes a time when their parent’s opinion of them is simply not as important and the need to forge their own path.

Authoritarian parenting does not celebrate the simple, middle of the road achievements of most children. Excellence is seen as the only yardstick and anything less than this is not to be tolerated. Being mediocre is, of course, more common for most of us but for the child of authoritarian parents it is simply not an option.

Rather than creating better behaved kids, authoritarian parenting can actually work in the reverse. It doesn’t teach the child how to motivate themselves and learn skills in self discipline. They don’t learn the all important concepts of effort invested = rewards; and so when they are adults, they can struggle to reach their potential.

Another issue is that when the child needs extra emotional support, they tend to see their parent as incapable of giving it. Nurturing and empathy are not high on the parent’s scale of what is important and they are not seen as a source of comfort by their child.

Parenting is not a one sided relationship. It is important to use our skills and knowledge to parent the children we have. Using fear, control, power and dominance to raise our children is never going to be a success. It is far better to aim for a balance of flexibility and love and then being open to whatever qualities our children develop.