If you have heard the terms authoritative and authoritarian parenting, you would be forgiven for thinking they are the same thing, or at least quite similar. They sound almost the same, and both terms indicate that authority is at the center of their philosophy.
Both styles of parenting do have authority at their core. But, the difference is how parents use these strategies to enforce their authority, and interact with their child.
Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting
Authoritative and authoritarian parenting have some similarities but overall are significantly different. Both parenting styles have high expectations and standards. However, it is the way in which authoritative and authoritarian parents interact with their children that the two styles diverge.
- What Is Authoritative Parenting?
- What Is Authoritarian Parenting?
- Differences Between Authoritative and Authoritarian Parenting
- Effects of Authoritative Parenting
- Effects of Authoritarian Parenting
- Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting – Which Is Better?
- Tips for Authoritative Parenting
- Your Best Is Good Enough
What Is Authoritative Parenting?
The authoritative parenting style is strict — these parents have high expectations of their children.
Authoritative parents balance their rules and structure with warmth and clear communication. They will explain the rules to their children, and are willing to discuss those rules. Authoritative parents are also willing to make modifications in response to their children’s input if the parent thinks it is appropriate (1).
Here Is How It Works
Let’s take the example of a child who doesn’t want to go to bed.
An authoritative parent will ask their child why they do not want to go to bed. The parent will sit and listen to their child’s reasons, and acknowledge that those feelings are valid. In response to that conversation, an authoritative parent will then decide whether to let their child stay up, or whether they have to go to bed.
So, if their child doesn’t want to go to bed “just because,” the parent will be firm. They’ll tell their child they have to go to bed because they need to be rested for school tomorrow, and the child will be expected to go to bed.
If the child continues to protest, the authoritative parent will warn of or apply discipline to ensure cooperation.
If, in that same example, their child doesn’t want to go to bed because they feel unwell, and the parent discovers they have a fever, they may modify the rules accordingly. They might agree, because of the special circumstances, to allow the child to sit up and watch television to help take their mind off of feeling poorly.
What Is Authoritarian Parenting?
The authoritarian parenting style is also strict, and they also have high expectations for their children. However, this is where the two parenting styles part ways.
Authoritarian parents expect blind obedience from their children. There is little, if anything, in the way of warmth, and they are not willing to discuss their rules and boundaries with their children. The child of an authoritarian parent is discouraged from discussing the validity of rules and regulations — instead, they are expected to obey without question (2).
Here Is How It Works
Again, let’s look at the example of a child who doesn’t want to go to bed.
There will be no discussion around why the child doesn’t want to go to bed. Instead, the authoritarian parent is likely to say something along the lines of “Do as you’re told and go to bed,” expecting their child to comply.
If their child continues to protest, the authoritarian parent will likely apply punishment to gain control and set an example.
Differences Between Authoritative and Authoritarian Parenting
The key differences between authoritative vs. authoritarian parenting are:
The authoritative parent is loving and warm with their child. They are not afraid to show their affection, and they let their children know how much they are loved.
Even when enforcing rules and dispensing discipline, an authoritative parent will still be ultimately loving.
An authoritarian parent is generally cold toward their child, and reluctant to show them any affection. They rarely, if ever, let their children know they are loved.
When dispensing punishment, the authoritarian parent will remain cold and aloof. Some will even blame their child, saying that the child is “making” them dish out the punishment through their failure to adhere to the rules.
Authoritative parents actively encourage their children to share their thoughts and feelings. They are willing to listen to their kids, up to a point, and they acknowledge the validity of a child’s feelings.
Authoritarian parents are not interested in hearing from their children, and they do not invite discussion about the rules. Instead, communication is one way, with the parent telling their child what will happen. Think of it as a dictatorship rather than a democracy.
An authoritative parent sets reasonable rules and boundaries for their child, but they are willing to listen and modify the rules if appropriate. When their children break the rules, this type of parent will talk to their child, explaining why the behavior is inappropriate. They will also explain to their child why they are being disciplined, and invite questions to ensure clarity.
An authoritarian parent sets rules, and does not expect their rules to be questioned — ever. These parents do not see any need to explain the rules or the reasoning behind them. They expect their children to demonstrate blind obedience.
Authoritative parents use discipline to teach their children what to do and what not to do. The child is not punished harshly for breaking a rule or making a mistake, but they will experience consequences for their actions. The punishment is meant to be informative.
Authoritarian parents punish their children for breaking the rules, or even if they make a mistake. The punishment is not intended to be helpful, or to teach their child how to behave more appropriately.
Freedom And Control
Children of authoritative parents are actively encouraged to be independent. This independence is counterbalanced by the expectation that the child must take responsibility for their actions.
The children of authoritarian parents are not given any independence, and the parent is the one who takes control.
When you are considering authoritative vs. authoritarian parenting, the similar names can make it difficult to keep track of what parenting style has which feature. Here’s a chart to refer back to.
|Feature||The Authoritative Parent||The Authoritarian Parent|
|Standards||High Standards||High Standards|
|Expectations||High Expectations||High Expectations|
|Parental Warmth||Demonstrates warmth.|
Shows an active interest in the child’s life and interests.
|Cold and undemonstrative.|
Shows little, if any, interest in their child’s life and interests.
|Communication||Encourages two-way communication.|
Is willing to listen to their child’s thoughts, feelings, and point of view.
|Discourages two-way communication.|
Discounts their child’s thoughts, feelings, and point of view.
|Rules||Sets and enforces clear and consistent rules.|
Explains their rules ahead of time and is willing to make changes in response to input from their child, if appropriate.
|Inconsistently sets and enforces rules.|
Does not see the need to explain their reasoning and does not make changes in response to reasonable input from their child.
|Discipline||Uses consistent, positive discipline.|
Explains to their child what they have done wrong, why it is unacceptable, and how they should have behaved.
|Uses inconsistent punishment.|
Makes no effort to explain why the behavior is unacceptable and does nothing to teach correct behavior.
|Freedom||Encourages freedom of thought and action, within reason.||Discourages independent thought or action.|
|Control||Does not try to control their child’s every thought and deed.|
Gives their child the space to make their own mistakes and learn how to self-regulate and take responsibility.
|Expects to control their child’s thoughts and deeds.|
Doesn’t give their child space to make mistakes from which they can learn to take responsibility and self-regulate.
Before we go onto discussing the potential effects of authoritative and authoritarian parenting, we’d like to make one thing clear.
While the way in which we parent our children does have an impact on the kind of adult they grow into, parenting style is not the only factor in determining who we become.
Each of us has our own, inherent personality and temperament which will impact who we become. It will also have a bearing on how our relationship with our parents develops, no matter what their parenting style.
We are also influenced by our peer groups, our experiences at school, teachers, our extended family, and the society in which we are raised.
For this reason, it is important to avoid becoming overly fixated on how your parenting style may or may not impact your child. Be aware, do your best, and focus on the here and now.
Now that we have that critical public service announcement out of the way, let’s take a look at the potential effects of authoritative vs. authoritarian parenting.
Effects of Authoritative Parenting
The children of authoritative parents are thought to have:
- Good emotional control and flexibility.
- Self-confidence, both in themselves on a personal level and in their abilities.
- The ability to cope well in social situations.
- Happier dispositions in general.
- Healthier, more successful personal relationships (3).
Effects of Authoritarian Parenting
Contrary to what you might imagine, the children of authoritarian parents do not necessarily grow up to be angry and aggressive. The opposite may be true.
But children of authoritarian parents may also grow up:
- Feeling obedience is needed in order to love or be loved, which can result in relationship difficulties. This can manifest itself as either being an abusive partner or being the victim in an abusive relationship.
- Having difficulty in a range of social situations because they have never learned to adapt to and alter their behaviors in response to changing circumstances.
- Suffering from low self-esteem and/or depression. A 2016 study found those raised with authoritarian parents were likelier to admit to depressive symptoms (source).
- Having problems with self-control and impulsive behaviors because they have not been allowed to make their own choices and experience the consequences of those actions (4).
Authoritative vs. Authoritarian Parenting – Which Is Better?
While there is no evidence to prove beyond a doubt that parenting style influences the adults we become, there is plenty of evidence that suggests it does.
Likewise, while there is no evidence to prove authoritative parenting is the better parenting style, it has been shown not to be damaging. The available evidence points to authoritative parenting as being the better parenting style because of the positive results it yields (5).
According to the psychologists at UCLA, children who receive authoritative parenting learn strong self-regulation skills. These children are more likely to have high self-esteem, academic achievement, and levels of independence. The drawback of this parenting style is that it can be time-consuming to implement, and both parents must be consistent in its use (6).
Tips for Authoritative Parenting
If you are looking for ways to apply a more authoritative parenting style, we have some tips for you:
- Encourage two-way communication with your child, and listen to their thoughts and feelings.
- Be prepared to make changes in response to reasonable input from your child.
- Explain your rules, and the reasoning behind them so your child will understand.
- Don’t be afraid of upsetting your child by sticking to your reasonable rules and boundaries.
- Use discipline and not punishment when your child breaks the rules or behaves inappropriately.
- Encourage your child to be independent.
- Allow your children to make mistakes, and don’t rush to bail them out. Instead, provide support and advice about how to deal with their mistakes.
- Set clear, consistent rules for your child to follow, and stick to them.
Your Best Is Good Enough
Whatever your parenting has been like until now, it is never too late to adopt a more authoritative parenting style. And, if you are already an authoritative parent, but you have veered into authoritarian or permissive parenting from time to time, don’t worry.
As parents, we are all doing our best in an ever-changing landscape. And, do you know what? Your best is good enough.