Research in child psychology over the past thirty years or so has focused heavily on the different “styles” parents use to parent their children. Psychologists are interested in the sorts of discipline that are effective and whether there is a connection between parenting disciplinary styles and how the child actually turns out. One consistent finding of this research has been that parents who are overly strict, dictatorial, and authoritarian actually end up with children with more behavior problems, particularly aggression.
What is an Authoritarian Parenting Style?
Developmental psychologists differentiate between several different parenting styles, but the most discipline-oriented parenting style is known as an authoritative parenting style. These parents focus primarily on controlling their children’s behavior and believe the primary task of parenting is discipline. They tend to punish severely and may spank their children. However, a person can be an authoritarian parent without spanking. Giving direct orders to a child rather than explaining or cooperating with the child, as well as making threats frequently are hallmarks of an authoritarian parenting style. Authoritarian parents are the parents most likely to proclaim, “Because I said so!” They tend not to see a need to explain the reasons for rules to their children and are instead focused on obedience and control.
What Are The Effects of Authoritarian Parenting?
Authoritarian parenting is one style of parenting for which psychologists have been able, through study after study, to find clear and consistent results. And the results, simply put, are that this strategy seems to backfire. Children raised by authoritarian parents are more likely than children raised by any other style of parenting to engage in aggressive behavior. These children also tend to struggle with self-sufficiency in their teen and young adult years, have difficulty making friends, Perhaps most interesting, children from authoritarian families are less mature in their reasoning about moral issues. They may not be able to know what to do when faced with a complex moral dilemma, or may not be able to appeal to universal principles. These children are instead more likely to say, “It’s wrong because I might get in trouble.” This opens the door to difficulty with making moral decisions as an adult.
Why Doesn’t The Authoritarian Parenting Style Work?
Many parents might be surprised to hear that a strict disciplinary style ultimately backfires. After all, a parent who is interested in controlling their child seems like a parent who would do a better job controlling the child. It is true that children from authoritarian parents tend to behave better in very young childhood, when they are more likely to receive constant supervision from their parents. However, these children are poorly equipped to make good decisions when they don’t have someone standing over their shoulders. Some factors that contribute to the ineffectiveness of an authoritarian parenting style also include:
-Redirected aggression. Children who feel bullied by their parents are likely to redirect that aggression to a friend, animal, or teacher, which may account for the increased aggression among children raised by authoritarian parents.
-Modeling. Children raised by authoritarian parents have an aggressive style modeled to them. Thus they are more likely to become aggressive with their peers.
-Lack of cooperation. Children who learn how to cooperate and negotiate with their parents are more likely to be able to cooperate and negotiate with friends. However, because authoritarian parents do not negotiate or compromise with their children, their children may then handle peers in that same way, and resort to aggression when their peers do not obey.
-Lack of independence. Authoritarian parents don’t explain the reasons for rules to children, which means that children don’t learn how to reason on their own about moral problems. Further, children who have a parent constantly looking over their shoulder are less likely to learn how to self regulate their behavior. This means, for example, when a child gets to college he may not go to class because he is not accustomed to making good decisions independent of someone forcing him to.
Adopting a cooperative and authoritative approach with a child, while still upholding family rules, has been proven time and again to be a much more effective parenting strategy, and one that equips children to go out into the world as adults.
Harwood, Robin, Scott A. Miller, and Ross Vasta. Child Psychology: Development in a Changing Society. 5th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.