There are four parenting styles for teenagers: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved. This article explores which approach has the best outcome and what parents can do to make their parenting produce great teens.

I decided to write an article about parenting styles for teenagers and started my research by Googling the topic, as I usually do. I found this great article by Kimberly Kopko, published by Cornell University in 2007, called Parenting Styles and Adolescents. It was exactly what I was looking for, and the sort of thing I would have written if I’d got there first, so I decided to write a follow up article summarising Kimberley’s work and then explaining why one parenting style is considered the best. If you’ve got time, I’d highly recommend heading over to her article though.

The best parenting style is the authoritarian one. Are you doing the things to get this right?

Getting to know the parenting styles

Kimberly, along with most other authors on this topic, feel that there are four parenting styles based on two key behaviours: how you control the behaviour of your children and how caring you are towards them. Here’s what the four styles look like:

Parenting styles

As I said, if you really want to understand these four styles, then I’d suggest you read Kimberley’s article Parenting Styles and Adolescents. But let me give you the ten-second version for non-academics:

  • Authoritative parents encourage independence but maintain some limits. They tend to make time to listen to their kids and look for opportunities to discuss issues or debate them so that their children will learn to negotiate and share their ideas and opinions. Kids in these families tend to be more responsible, able to make sensible decisions for themselves and develop great social skills.
  • Authoritarian parents might sound similar but they tend to be those strict parents that aren’t all that flexible around the rules. This style of parenting usually pushes kids one of two ways – to being rebellious or to being submissive and staying dependent on their parents for longer.
  • Permissive parents like to see themselves as a resource for their children and limit the rules and boundaries they have to live with. These parents tend to be seen as indulgent and passive in their parenting approach, giving their kids exactly what they want as a way of showing them love. These teens often have poor self-control.
  • Uninvolved parents are exactly that, not really involved in the lives of their kids, either through a lack of time or a lack of relationship. These kids are the ones that tend to run wild or act impulsively.

Have you worked out what parenting style the experts think is best? That’s right, it’s the authoritative style.

Here’s some interesting facts if you’re not convinced about a caring approach to parenting within some firm boundaries (see where I found these facts at the end of this article):

  • Young people who are raised by authoritative parents have the lowest rates of being overweight or depressed and are more likely to be well engaged in school, have a healthy self esteem and enjoy life overall
  • Teenagers with authoritarian parents tend to have poor social skills, low self esteem and high levels of depression; they also have the greatest odds of being overweight or having an eating disorder
  • Permissive parenting tends to result in higher use of alcohol and drugs, poor behaviour in school, low self esteem and little drive to do anything they don’t want to do; they’re also twice as likely to be overweight than kids who live in authoritative families
  • The teens and tweens who live with uninvolved parents fare the worst in life, with the greatest risk of getting involved in youth crime and vandalism, twice the chance of taking up smoking or drinking alcohol, lower self esteem and the highest rates of depression

What smart parents do right

While generally the authoritative style is the best approach to parenting, there are four things that all parents can do to bring out the best in their teens and tweens:

  1. Be consistent in your parenting style. Hopefully I’ve convinced you that the authoritative style is the way to go, but don’t sweat it if every now and then you revert to another way. We all like to feel loved, so most parents will be permissive from time to time, and that’s not a bad thing. If you’ve got a teen who’s ignoring all the boundaries you’ve set in place and acting impulsively, you’re probably going to have to pull them into line and be a bit more authoritarian. And we all go through seasons in life where we get distracted and might be uninvolved. Just aim to do your best more often than not.
  2. Focus on the individual. Every young person has different needs and a different approach to life, that will require a unique parenting approach. I know some kids like to push every boundary hard, test every rule and question every decision of their parents. Other kids are far more easy going and prosper with clear expectations. Adjust your parenting style to meet the needs of each of your children individually, aiming to be firm in how you control their behaviour but as caring as you can be too.
  3. If you’re a long way from being authoritative, take one step each day to be more caring and set reasonable boundaries. Authoritative parenting isn’t about having rules just to show your kids who’s boss. It’s about setting boundaries that enable young people to learn to be independent and make their own decisions. In my article on media limits I talked about the parenting funnel, and this is a really useful tool for being an authoritative parent; gradually easing the boundaries as your teens and tweens show they can make the right decisions when needed and show respect.
  4. Make negotiation and discussion part of your life with teens. If you want to help them work out how to navigate the adult world themselves, then snap up every opportunity you have to discuss what would be reasonable with them and negotiate resolutions that you can both be happy with. Teens have far more respect for boundaries they’ve contributed to and by justifying your expectations or opinions, you model the decision making process to them over and over again.

If you’re already doing these things, they good on you, you’re a champion parent! But in this hectic life you can often slip into patterns of behaviour that don’t bring out the best in your teens, particularly if they’ve been difficult to manage in the past. Don’t change things overnight, but set your sights on an end game when they are 18 or finishing school and slowly work your way towards that. Remember consistency, individual focus, small steps and being open to negotiation and discussion will go a long way to getting an outcome you can live with.

Some resources I used for this article that I can’t provide links for are:

  • Research by Donna Hoskins on the “Consequences of Parenting on Adolescent Outcomes”, published in Societies, 2014, volume 4.
  • “Parenting styles and eating disorders”, by IJ Lobera, PB Rios and OG Casals, which was published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, volume 18 in 2011.
  • Kyung Rhee, Julie Lumeng, Danielle Appugliese, Niko Kaciroti and Robert Bradley’s article, “Parenting Styles and Overweight Status in First Grade”, which was published in 2006, in Pediatrics, volume 117 (6).
  • “Trajectories of Delinquency and Parenting Styles”, by Machteld Hoeve, Arjan Blokland, Judith Semon Dumas, Jan Gerris and Peter van der Laan, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, volume 36 (2) in 2008.

What do you think about parenting styles for teenagers? Is your go-to style working for you, or is it time for a tweak? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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