Authoritative Vs. Authoritarian Parenting: Which to Use?

Authoritative Vs. Authoritarian Parenting: Which to Use?
  • Authoritarian parents expect obedience and may punish kids instead of helping them find solutions.
  • Authoritative parents offer emotional support and use logical consequences to help kids learn.
  • Experts say kids with authoritative parents have better mental health and greater life satisfaction.

Authoritarian and authoritative parenting may sound similar, but these two styles have very little in common — and they can have vastly different impacts on kids. 

Authoritarian parenting is a strict approach that emphasizes child obedience with high expectations for a child’s behavior. 

Parents who use this style tend to rely more heavily on punishment for behaviors they don’t want to see and focus less on techniques for teaching appropriate behavior, says Kalley Hartman, a licensed marriage and family therapist and Clinical Director at Ocean Recovery, an addiction treatment center where she often works with children and families. 

On the other hand, authoritative parents take a different approach. While they also have high expectations for their kids, they offer more flexibility in responding to their children’s behavior. Instead of punishing a child for not meeting expectations, an authoritative parent will try to problem-solve with them instead.

Each parent and child is different, and your individual needs, strengths, and personality may guide your unique approach to parenting. But in general, most experts recommend an authoritative approach.

Read on to learn more about what sets these two approaches apart and the science behind the benefits of authoritative parenting. 

Examples of authoritarian parenting

“Authoritarian parents have rigid rules and expectations for their children with little to no communication or flexibility in terms of enforcement,” Hartman says. 

Some examples of authoritarian parenting:

Effects of authoritarian parenting 

Authoritarian parenting takes an “I am the boss” approach that may seem to help shape a child’s behavior in the short term, but it typically doesn’t teach the child how to behave in the long term, says Robyn Rausch, a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist at Calming Communities

That’s because authoritarian parenting focuses on controlling the child’s behavior with little discussion or input from the child themselves. So, kids are less likely to learn the “right” way to behave, Rausch says. 

Instead, they learn that certain behaviors make their parents angry. As a result, they may be more likely to lie to their parents or sneak around so their parents don’t find out they’re doing something they shouldn’t. 

According to Hartman, authoritarian parenting:

  • Limits a child’s autonomy
  • Fails to provide needed emotional support
  • Makes it difficult for kids to learn problem solving skills
  • Negatively affects social-emotional development
  • Can raise a child’s risk of developing mental health issues in adulthood, like depression and substance use problems

Examples of authoritative parenting

“Authoritative parenting takes a ‘we can do this’ approach,” Rausch says. It focuses on learning and connection while including the child’s input and experience.

Effects of authoritative parenting

According to Rausch, this style focuses on logical consequences for discipline, not punishment.

These consequences relate to problems caused by the behavior and aim to help teach kids solutions, Rausch says. 

As a result, kids raised with authoritative parents are more likely to develop the skills necessary to regulate their emotions, solve conflicts with their peers, and become confident in their own judgments and sense of self. 

Other science-backed benefits of authoritative parenting include:

  • Higher levels of academic success: A small 2022 study of academic achievement among teens found that participants with authoritative parents were more likely to believe they could achieve academic success than those with neglectful parents. This belief translated to more success in the classroom.
  • Better self-esteem: A small 2014 study found a positive relationship between authoritative parenting and self-esteem.
  • Lower rates of depression and anxiety: A small 2016 study of mental resilience among elderly adults in China found participants who grew up with authoritative parents had lower levels of depression and anxiety than those who grew up with authoritarian parents.
  • Increased life satisfaction: A 2020 study on the effects of parenting styles on life satisfaction found a strong link between authoritative parenting and higher life satisfaction. The study also linked authoritarian parenting to lower life satisfaction.

Other parenting styles

In addition to authoritarian and authoritative parenting, child development experts recognize two other main parenting styles

Adjusting your parenting approach

Most experts agree authoritative parenting provides the most benefits — both in terms of child development and the parent-child relationship.

“Authoritative parenting aligns the parent and child as a team from the beginning and keeps them there promoting a healthy relationship. It values the child’s perspective, needs, and creativity which builds their self-esteem and empowers them to make positive choices when building their life,” Rausch says.

Yet each parent has their own individual resources, needs, and strengths that inform how they parent, says Dr. Shairi Turner, chief health officer at Crisis Text Line

For example, connecting with your kids emotionally might feel natural to you, while setting firm boundaries may not. Or, you might excel at maintaining routines and structure at home but struggle to show flexibility when plans change.

Sometimes, adjusting your parenting style can be challenging, especially if your own parents were authoritarian and you don’t have examples of other ways to parent, Rausch says. 

These tips can help:

  • Identify your style: Consider whether your parenting approach supports your child’s health, growth, and development. This can help guide you toward becoming the parent you’d like to be.
  • Seek out support: Many online groups, books, and other resources can help you learn more about authoritative parenting and how to embrace it. Rausch recommends searching for authoritative parenting — aka “gentle parenting” — groups on social media to find a like-minded community that can provide validation and help you brainstorm ways to solve problems.
  • Reach out to a professional: A family therapist or professional counselor can help you think through and discuss more effective parenting strategies, Hartman says. Working with a mental health professional can also help you gain insight into your own upbringing and develop healthy coping skills to improve emotional regulation.
  • Give yourself grace: Shifting to a different way of parenting takes time and practice, Rausch says. Acknowledge the hard work you are doing and apologize when you slip into old habits. 

Tausi Insider’s takeaway

It’s no secret that your interactions with your kids play a vital role in their development and overall well-being. In fact, your style of child-rearing can affect all areas of your kids’ lives, including their brain development, mental health, and social-emotional skills.

Your natural parenting style may align more closely with a permissive, uninvolved, or authoritarian approach — but most experts point to authoritative parenting as the most beneficial for child development, mental health, and academic and career success. 

This approach encourages parents and children to work as a team to solve problems — in contrast to authoritarian parenting, which focuses on strict obedience with little flexibility or discussion. 

At times, you may need to adjust parts of your parenting to fit the needs of your child, Turner says. But in general, adopting parenting practices from the authoritative style can help your child develop problem-solving skills, self-confidence, and independence.

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